Big Tobacco Bait and Switch: Supporting Weak T21 Laws with Hidden Preemption Clauses
March madness isn’t just reserved for the basketball court—it’s also an accurate description of the series of events unfolding in state capitol buildings across the country. We remain on high alert as Big Tobacco has mounted a full-court press, recruiting a bench of top-tier lobbyists on a mission to pass weak tobacco T21 policies in all 50 states.
T21 is a policy strategy of increasing the minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21. This policy approach may prove to be a helpful tactic for curbing youth addiction to nicotine. However, these bills have complicated policy nuances while also moving quickly through legislatures–the perfect recipe for Big Tobacco interference. While T21 is one possible tactic for curbing youth addiction to nicotine, it is not a substitute for evidence based policies like smokefree protections. The evidence is clear that smokefree policies, increasing the price of tobacco products, and funding comprehensive prevention and cessation services will have the greatest public health benefit.
Facing an image and identity crisis as sales of traditional cigarettes plummet, Big Tobacco—including RJ Reynolds and Altria—are the latest organizations to get behind T21 legislation in states like West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Arkansas, and Washington, where they are seeking to insert their own twisted policy language. Recently, they put their weight behind a bill in Virginia that sailed through the legislature despite being opposed by all major health organizations.
The tobacco industry continues their relentless pursuit of profit over public health.
So, what’s their play? The tobacco companies see T21 legislation as an opportunity to answer the FDA’s call to act on the e-cigarette epidemic. Big Tobacco holds a big stake in the future of nicotine addiction. In order to continue to recruit their next customer base they need to evade the sales and marketing rules that federal regulators have set for them to follow. The bills that Big Tobacco proposes are vague and riddled with exemptions that actually inhibit state and local governments from being able to best address public health in their communities, including taking away the authority of local municipalities to regulate smokefree and other tobacco-related laws.
We are sounding the alarm! We want to fire up our crowd. We cannot let Big Tobacco beat us to the buzzer when it comes to protecting our children from tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure.
Read more about another Big Tobacco tactic: preemption.