Monthly Archives: September 2016

2016-09-11 P-D Letters: Pro vs Con re. raising legal age to buy tobacco products

Mr. Tom Sullivan wrote a letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, published on September 8th, critical of St. Louis County Councilman Sam Page for his legislation raising the age to legally purchase tobacco and related products from 18 to 21. I found his arguments unconvincing, and given my own support for these efforts wrote a letter in reply. I’m delighted it was published in the prime first spot in today’s newspaper.
Below I’ve reproduced my published reply, followed by Mr. Sullivan’s original letter:

Letters to the editor


Mike O’Mara, St. Louis County Council Chairman (left) and Sam Page, Vice-Chairman, listen to public testimony during a regular weekly session of the County Council in the County Government Center in Clayton. Photo: Sid Hastings

Council members should be praised for raising tobacco age  
Sept. 11, 2016 
On-line comments:(2)

Tom Sullivan’s letter (“Doctors should worry about more important things than tobacco age limit” Th. Sept. 8) criticizes St. Louis County Council Member Sam Page, a medical doctor, for his legislation raising the legal age to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21. Sullivan suggests that medical professionals should focus instead on reducing the number of people who die each year from medical mistakes or from hospital-acquired infections (250,000 and 100,000 respectively).
While important concerns, Sullivan ignores the death and suffering caused by smoking and secondhand smoke. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes more than 480,000 deaths annually to these causes.
A 2015 Institute of Medicine report, Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products, contains compelling evidence of the significant public health benefits of raising the tobacco sales age to 21.
It estimated that “if the minimum age of legal access were raised now to 21 nationwide, there would be approximately 223,000 fewer premature deaths, 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost for those born between 2000 and 2019.”
The report concluded that “raising the (age) to 21 will reduce tobacco use initiation, particularly among adolescents 15 to 17 years of age; improve the health of Americans across the lifespan; and save lives.”
Dr. Page and his fellow council members supporting this legislation deserve praise and not criticism.

Martin Pion • Ferguson
President, Missouri GASP

Doctors should worry about more important things than tobacco age limit     Th. Sept. 8, 2016 
The proposal to raise the age from 18 to 21 to buy tobacco products and electronic smoking devices in St. Louis County was given final approval at Tuesday’s meeting of the County Council (“County sets 21 as minimum age to buy tobacco, vaping products,” Sept. 7)
It was rushed through despite many unanswered questions.
The legislation was sponsored by Councilman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, who is a medical doctor. Many other doctors, hospitals and medical associations supported the proposal. Raising the age won’t make any difference, but supporters want to pretend it will keep young people from smoking. Given that marijuana, cocaine and heroin are readily available to all ages in this area, raising the age to buy legal tobacco and smoking products will hardly stop anyone under 21 seeking to acquire them.
Rather than being concerned about the age restriction proposal, there are other matters that medical people and organizations might give some priority to. A study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical School found so many people dying from medical mistakes it was the third largest cause of death in this country — behind heart disease and cancer. In their study released this year, researchers claimed more than 250,000 people die each year due to preventable medical mistakes.
Hospital-acquired infections are another big problem. According to Consumers Union, more than 2 million hospital patients are victims of hospital-acquired infections each year and more than 100,000 of them die. Adding insult to injury, these patients are usually charged by the hospitals for the treatment required to fight the infections. According to one study, the average charge is $185,260.
Doctors and hospitals should be more concerned with the serious problems they are causing rather than the age of people who can buy tobacco and smoking products.

Tom Sullivan  •  University City

2016-09-06: St. Louis County approves 21 and over law to buy tobacco, e-cig products

At tonight’s St. Louis County Council meeting, council members voted 5 to 1, with one member absent, to approve bill no. 199, authored by council member Dr. Sam Page. It raises from 18 to 21 the age at which one can legally purchase cigarettes and similar items, including e-cigarettes.

During the Public Comment portion before the vote, because so many had signed up to speak, each person was limited to one minute and most of those testifying wanted the council to drop the inclusion of e-cigarettes while generally supporting the bill otherwise.

One after another spoke of former smokers suffering from COPD or similar diseases who had been cured after they started using e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes were also claimed to have helped smokers quit. Their safety was also emphasized with numerous speakers referring to scientific studies showing them to be 95% safer than regular cigarettes.

Bill Hannegan, a staunch opponent of smoke-free air laws, argued that the council should respect the rights of 18 year olds.

Council members listened but were evidently swayed more by arguments that such laws had already been passed in many other cities and some states and were shown to work. Voting for the bill were:

Sponsor, Dr. Sam Page (D), District 2
Colleen Wasinger (R), District 3
Michael O’Mara (D), District 4
Pat Dolan (D), District 5
Kevin O’Leary (D), District 6

Voting against: Mark Harder (R), District 7

Absent: Hazel Erby (D), District 1

After the council adjourned Dr. Page gave an interview, captured in the still image from video I shot below.


Bill sponsor, Dr. Sam Page (center), being interviewed by Post-Dispatch reporter Steve Giegerich (L) plus another reporter after council adjournment

My own testimony, which I drastically revised after learning that comments would be limited to 1 minute, focused on the fact that advertising for e-ciagettes wasn’t stressing any claimed benefits of quitting regular cigarettes. Instead it was stressing sex appeal and the “freedom to have a cigarette without guilt,” to quote a Blu e-cigarette ad. (Please see my testimony below, following this link to reporter Steve Giegerich’s Post-Dispatch story here: St. Louis County Council moves minimum age to purchase tobacco, vaping products to 21.)


Testimony to St. Louis County Council by Martin Pion, President, MoGASP
Tuesday, September 6, 2016.

Hon. Council Members and County Executive Steve Stenger:

I applaud council member Sam Page for introducing Bill No. 199 to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21. I’m also delighted that it has broad bipartisan council support, and I hope that includes my council member, Hazel Erby.

Any constructive effort to discourage the use of these products is important for the health and safety not only of the potential user, but also of exposed employees.

Many comments last week from vaping supporters asked for those products to be exempted on the grounds they help smokers quit. The way they’re being marketed tells a different story .


Jenny McCarthy in Blu e-cigarette ad


Virginia Slims ad, circa early 1980s

This is a 2013 Blu e-cigarettes ad, featuring actress & model Jenny McCarthy, with the tag line:

“Freedom to have a cigarette without the guilt.”

Compare that to this 1980s ad for Virginia Slims, with the tag line:

“You’ve come a long way, baby” emphasizing women’s lib.

Passing this bill shows that public health and welfare have come a long way in St. Louis County.

Thank you.