April Hasson works and lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband Elon, 16-month-old daughter and two sassy cats. She enjoys hiking throughout the Pacific Northwest, volunteering and roller derby.
When I was in high school, I smoked. I was 14 or 15 when I tried my first cigarette. It seemed like everyone smoked, and a lot of my friends from high school still do. Access to cigarettes was simple. We just walked into a convenience store and asked. If a store clerk wouldn't sell to my friends or me because we were underage, it was easy to ask a friend in one of the higher grades to buy some for us. It took a long time for me to realize that I was actually addicted to smoking, that I would want – actually NEED a cigarette – no matter where I was or what I was doing. If I was traveling with family, I'd have to go off somewhere and sneak a cigarette. It's pretty sad to be doing this when you're only 16.
It's one of my biggest fears that my daughter, now only 16 months, will ever go down this path. Smoking is so hard to stop once started. Quitting is not something that one can “just do” easily at will. Everyone who I've ever known to smoke has eventually wanted to stop. Smoking has been shown to be as addictive as heroin, and yet so many of our young people are starting up in their teens, just like I did. This addictive, leading cause of lung cancer and heart disease is readily available to our children. I've now seen the effects of smoking in myself and in friends. I've seen people die from lung cancer and suffer from related chronic conditions caused or made worse by smoking. I now also know that close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette before they are 21, at a time when young teens have friends in school who will share or purchase cigarettes for them. What if my daughter also has access when she's young? What if she becomes a lifelong smoker?
In a time where there seems to be many polarizing opinions on politics and policy, one thing I think we can all agree on is setting up our children – and our nation's children – to have healthy, happy and productive lives. One relatively simple step toward this is to increase the age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21. While this in itself won't completely stop youth from ever smoking, it will go a long way in helping prevent children from going down this dangerous path. Policies, especially when implemented at the local, state and national levels, are very effective. Let's do what California, Hawaii, Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, Chicago and hundreds of communities nationwide have done, and increase the tobacco purchase age to 21. It will help save hundreds of thousands of lives, and possibly the children in your life, too.