More than one hundred cancer survivors, legislators and advocates met at the State Capitol building Wednesday to rally support for raising Connecticut’s tobacco purchase age.
Residents said they want to see the minimum sale age reach 21 years old so that anyone younger cannot legally buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
“I thought [smoking rates] were going down,” said Eileen Cleary, who attended the event with a Relay For Life team and wore a button in honor of her father, who had cancer. “But it’s not. Now so many of them are getting into it with e-cigarettes, at school.”
Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. It is associated with up to one-third of all cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
In Connecticut, experts say nearly 4,900 people die every year from a tobacco-related illness.
The General Assembly is currently considering a bill that would increase the age limit. Individual municipalities—Hartford, Bridgeport, Milford, Southington, Trumbull, South Windsor and Wallingford—have already adopted their own laws to raise the purchase age to 21.
Dr. Andrew Salner, medical director at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, said there’s a momentum that recognizes the larger and long-term public health risks of tobacco, especially with a rise in e-cigarette use in the youth populations.
“We still know relatively little about what’s in e-cigarettes and what they long-term health effects might be,” he said, “but we do know the short-term effects, and that [e-cigarettes] aren’t good for you.”
The event was organized by the American Cancer Society Action Network and the American Heart Association for Cancer Lobby Day. Residents wore light blue shirts that read, “Make Fighting Cancer A Priority.”
Taylor Williams, 11, was among the youngest attendees there as she stood with other members of the Tyrell Tornadoes, a Relay For Life team based in Wolcott. She and her friends said they’ve seen other middle schoolers already using things like e-cigarettes.
“We came here to raise the age to buy tobacco to 21,” Williams said. “Young people, we’re losing them and we’re losing people we care about. It’s sad.”