Last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer released her health care proposal which included a provision to raise the statewide legal age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21, an issue that has seen bipartisan support on the University of Michigan.
Currently, Ann Arbor is just one of two localities where the legal tobacco purchasing age is already 21, along with Genesee County. While this policy may be uncommon within Michigan, it is rapidly gaining popularity across the greater United States, and has already been enacted in several states, including California, New Jersey and Oregon.
Whitmer explained her rationale for supporting the bill, citing the importance of public health. She said she believes it is an issue both parties can get behind.
“The facts show that this is an issue that everyone, regardless of party, should get serious about,” Whitmer told The Daily. “The leading cause of death in adults under 70 is tobacco, and 95 percent of adult smokers started smoking before they turned 21. If we want to keep Michiganders healthy and lower tobacco-related deaths in Michigan, we’ve got to raise the tobacco-purchasing age.”
The University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats supported Whitmer’s stance, according to Public Policy junior Cathrine Kelly, communications director for the organization. Kelly echoed Whitmer’s health concerns and agreed Michigan needed t lower smoking rates.
“This policy is already local law in Ann Arbor and it helps deter young people from starting up this deadly habit,” Kelly said. “We have high rates of tobacco use in Michigan and raising the legal age will help to reduce that.”
Democrats are not the only ones in favor of this policy. LSA sophomore Dylan Berger, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said it would help Michigan’s public health and that he fully agreed with Whitmer on this issue.
“I would hope that my fellow Republicans in Michigan State Government are open to Whitmer’s idea. I think both Republicans and Democrats can agree that tobacco usage has an adverse impact on Michigan’s well being and work to limit its usage,” Berger said. “As Ms. Whitmer has said, 95 percent of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 21. I believe raising the age required to buy tobacco would help curb Michigan’s tobacco usage. The human and economic costs of tobacco usage in Michigan are overwhelming.”
Berger also added he felt the proposal would help Michigan economically, something Whitmer also mentioned in her health care proposal.
“Over 200,000 children currently under the age of 18 will eventually succumb to tobacco-related illnesses,” Berger said. “On the economic side, Michigan spends over $4.5 billion on health care costs due to smoking. Moreover, smoking costs Michigan over $4.75 billion in productivity loss as a result of tobacco-related illnesses. Working to minimize tobacco usage in Michigan will be a boon for our health and economy.”
Shortly after Ann Arbor’s smoking ordinance went into effect in 2017, Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is now also the Republican candidate for governor, issued an opinion saying claiming the ordinance was in conflict with state law, though it was never challenged in court.
Additionally, Whitmer, Kelly and Berger all said they were in favor of extending smoking codes and regulations to products such as vapes and e-cigarettes.
“Per CDC data, the number of high school students that used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days increased by about 75 percent over the past year,” Berger said. “ I believe that e-cigarettes are harmful on their own and have the potential to raise a new generation of nicotine addicts. I would like to see Michigan State Government take action to combat e-cigarette usage by young people.”