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
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