Michael Owolabi, MD, MPH - SIU Springfield Center for Family Medicine
Testimony in support of SB 3011
Representing Illinois Academy of Family Physicians
Senate Public Health Committee
April 5, 2016

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of senate bill 3011.

My name is Dr. Michael Owolabi, and I’m a family medicine resident at SIU Family Medicine Residency here in Springfield. We are a Federally Qualified Health Center, serving many formerly uninsured or underinsured, especially Medicaid, adolescent and Maternal and child health population.

Family physicians cheered when Senator John Mulroe introduced Senate Bill 3011. This bill will save lives and reduce healthcare costs associated with tobacco use. Now is the time and I urge you to vote yes.

On March 16, the Chicago City Council voted to raise the legal age to purchase any tobacco product to 21. Evanston, home of Northwestern University, already has a tobacco 21 ordinance and it is working. The rest of the state should follow their lead.

The Tobacco 21 concept is backed with scientific evidence. In March of 2015, the Institute of Medicine released the results of a study that estimated that raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21 would reduce smoking among 15 to 17 year-olds by 25 percent, and 18 to 20 year-olds by 15 percent. Many thousands of kids will live longer, healthier lives because they will never become addicted to nicotine and tobacco.

The Illinois Youth Tobacco Survey data shows that over 22 percent of high school students use some form of tobacco, from cigarettes and cigars to smokeless tobacco. National data also shows that e-cigarette use among youth has tripled in recent years to 13 percent.

Tobacco 21 would also cover the purchasing of e-cigarettes, a product whose long term health effects are currently undocumented. What we do know is that e-cigarettes have nicotine, harmful chemicals and toxins. They are NOT approved by the FDA as a way to quit smoking, but can be yet another form of nicotine addiction. Meanwhile these products are aggressively marketed to youth with tempting flavors and celebrity spokespersons.

Stopping the sale to tobacco products to teens will give them a better chance for a healthier life. The teenage brain is still developing and susceptible to addiction. Furthermore, the late teen years are critical in solidifying healthy habits and avoiding deadly ones. Some teen girls are already pregnant. Some 18-20 year old men and women are already parents, with children of their own at home.

Some people suggest that if someone serving in our armed forces is old enough to fight for their country, they should be old enough to buy cigarettes. Because our soldiers need to be in top physical shape to do their jobs, the U.S. Department of Defense has already committed to making all military bases and posts worldwide tobacco-free by the year 2020. The U.S. military also supports tobacco 21 laws. There is nothing patriotic about tobacco use or selling these products to 18-20 year olds.

The costs of treating smoking-related illnesses are astronomical. Illinois currently spends $5.49 billion, nearly $2 billion of that from the state’s Medicaid program, to treat tobacco related diseases. This is pertinent because cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. It is detrimental to almost every organ in the body, predisposing many to all forms of cancer. Which, unfortunately, I have seen first hand, many complications of cigarette smoking. Though smoking rates have declined in recent years, Tobacco use still causes more premature deaths than AIDS, auto crashes, homicides, alcohol use, illegal drug use, suicides and fires combined. Tobacco use is directly responsible for about 18,300 deaths in Illinois each year.

Support for raising the purchasing age to 21 is spreading nationwide. The state of Hawaii and more than 130 cities including Boston, Kansas City, New York City and Cleveland have tobacco 21 laws. And now Chicago will join them. Meanwhile Tobacco 21 has passed in California and awaits the governor’s signature. Another 14 states and the territory of Guam have introduced Tobacco 21 bills. New Jersey reintroduced their Tobacco 21 bill after Gov. Chris Christie pocket-vetoed their first bill earlier this year.

The tobacco industry has not given up on hooking our kids to be their future customers. We cannot give up the fight to keep tobacco away from our young people. Let us help today’s youth make the transition to tobacco-free adults and enjoy a healthier future. We are ready to help all of our young patients quit tobacco for good!

If there are any issues that both parties should be able to agree upon in our current combative political environment, I hope this is one where democrats and republicans can come together and accomplish something great for our state. Thank you and please vote yes on Senate Bill 3011.

Staff Contact: Ginnie Flynn, Vice President of Communications – 630-427-8004 or gflynn@iafp.com.

NOTE: States with Tobacco 21 bills introduced:
Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia