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Local union urges lawmakers to change smoking laws



Last month, the Oregon division of the Service Employees International Union urged Oregon legislators to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21.

California may raise the minimum age soon depending on Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval. Heather Conroy, executive director of SEIU Local 503, said that Oregon should follow California’s lead and change the law to better protect children in the state.

“California legislators overcame heavy-handed lobbying and threats from the tobacco industry, passing Tobacco 21 legislation because they recognized their duty to protect kids and save lives,” Conroy said.

Now banned on campus, tobacco use has been a concern for university health officials for years. In 2003, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center approached the University Health Center with the intention of increasing tobacco control on campus. By 2004, the EMU stopped selling cigarettes, and in 2009, all campus-area restaurants and bars became smoke-free. On Sept. 1, 2012, the University of Oregon became a tobacco-free campus.

UO Director of Health Promotion Paula Staight feels that the age change would help to lower the number of student smokers tremendously.

The director’s optimism is based on the fact that raising the minimum legal age to 21 would make it more difficult for 13- through 18-year-olds to get their hands on the substance.

“So you’re 14 or 15, how do you get access? If you’re in high school … you rub up against the 18- and 19-year-olds,” Staight said. “When you’re in high school, you’re not going to rub up as much against the 21-year-olds. So it will limit access.”

Sonya Sobel, a 21-year-old employee at Jambo Smoke and Gift Shop in Eugene, believes that in order to save lives, the state must educate rather than regulate.

“The thing that I’m actually concerned about if [the age change] would happen, is that once somebody turns 21 they can legally drink, smoke weed and smoke cigarettes. I feel like that is a lot for one person if they have not already experimented with something that’s not good for them,” Sobel said. “I think [the solution is] trying to get information out there about the really serious effects of lung cancer and the fact that it is really addictive.”

Daniel Knower, a 21-year-old who has been smoking off and on since high school, attributes the habit to curiosity.

“I never sought it out that much until I turned 18. I was like, ‘Why not? I can. I’m of age,’” Knower said.

He believes that raising the age would provide young adults more time to make informed decisions, which would lower the incentive that accompanies tobacco use.

As for Oregon legislation, nothing has been put in motion yet; however, the anti-tobacco movement has been gaining momentum in the past decade.

According to tobacco21.org, 141 U.S. cities in 10 states as well as the entire state of Hawaii have raised the smoking age to 21 since 2005.


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Wes Franco

Wes Franco