Tobacco-Free Generation: Crash Course

The phrase “tobacco-free generation” has been in the news a lot lately. But what is a tobacco-free generation? Who is advocating for it? Why is this important? How can I help? The Thirdhand Smoke Resource Center team collected the facts and created a crash course on the tobacco-free generation to answer these questions and more.

A chalk board has three children holding hands. Above them are no smoking, no vaping, and no nicotine pouches signs. It says “What is a tobacco-free generation?”

What is a tobacco-free generation?

“Tobacco-free generation” refers to a type of tobacco control policy that abolishes/ends the sale of commercial tobacco products to everyone born after a specific date. This policy could be at a local, state, or even national level.

For example, a town could end tobacco sales to all individuals born on or after January 1, 2000. In the year 2022, someone born in 1999 would be allowed to purchase tobacco products, but someone born in the year 2000 would not.

Unlike tobacco sales restrictions that prevent people from buying commercial tobacco products until they are 21 years old, tobacco-free generation policies protects people born after a certain date from ever being sold tobacco.

 

What products are included in a tobacco-free generation?

Tobacco-free generation policies include any commercial tobacco or nicotine product. This includes cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes, heat-not-burn, and other smokeless tobacco and nicotine products, such as pouches.

 

Where did this concept start?

The original proposal of a tobacco-free generation came from researchers in Singapore in 2010. This proposal suggested ending the sale of tobacco products to people born after 1999. The Singapore government is in the early stages of considering a tobacco-free generation, but the country does not currently have such a policy in place.

 

What places have a tobacco-free generation?

Currently, only two cities have implemented a tobacco-free generation policy: Balanga City in the Philippines and Brookline in Massachusetts. In 2022, New Zealand passed a tobacco-free generation policy to end the sale of commercial tobacco products to people born after 2008. The policy was scheduled to be implemented in July 2024. However, following changes in their government leadership, the policy was overturned in March 2024. Other countries and regions, including the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and California, are considering tobacco-free generations.

 

Why are tobacco-free generations important?

Tobacco-free generation policies could help achieve Tobacco Endgame goals, which advocate for the global end of tobacco use. In California, for example, the state has a Tobacco Endgame goal of eliminating commercial tobacco use by 2035.

In addition, a tobacco-free generation policy will directly prevent people from starting smoking, which in return reduces second- and thirdhand smoke exposure. This will lower the burden of smoking-related disease and death, particularly in minority and underserved communities.

Finally, compared to other types of tobacco control policies, tobacco-free generation policies give businesses time to prepare for a world where commercial tobacco products cannot be sold to the public.

 

What pushback is there to tobacco-free generations, and how do we address these concerns?

Not surprisingly, the tobacco industry is vehemently opposed to tobacco-free generations. One argument they pose is whether these types of policies are legal. In response to this, the Public Health Law Center argues that there is no Constitutional right to smoke. Further, they note that federal and state governments have the right to make sales-related laws, including tobacco sales.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a law in the town of Brookline that bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone born on or after January 1, 2000. The law forbids only commercial sales, not the purchase, possession, or use of tobacco, meaning the act of smoking is not criminalized.

Another argument they promote is that this type of policy will hurt the economy. This argument overlooks that reducing the number of people who smoke will lower tobacco-caused deaths, illness, and the cost of overall health care both for people who smoke and for those exposed, often involuntarily, to second- and thirdhand smoke.

 

How can people support tobacco-free generations?

Tobacco-free generation policies are an important public health initiative that people can support in a number of ways.

First, voting for elected officials who support tobacco-free generation policies and the Tobacco Endgame will help bring these policies to your communities.

Second, help spread the word about the importance of these policies: talk to your friends and family about what you’ve learned about tobacco-free generation policies.

Finally, if you know someone who smokes, encourage them to seek the help they need to quit smoking. Reducing the rate of smoking protects everyone from second- and thirdhand smoke exposure.

 

Sources:

Corlett, Eva. New Zealand scraps world-first smoking ‘generation ban’ to fund tax cuts. The Guardian. 2023 Nov. 26. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/27/new-zealand-scraps-world-first-smoking-generation-ban-to-fund-tax-cuts#:~:text=In%202022%20the%20country%20passed,health%20system%20billions%20of%20dollars.

Health and Economic Benefits of Tobacco Use Interventions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022 Dec. 21. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/programs-impact/pop/tobacco.htm

Khoo D, Chiam Y, Ng P, Berrick AJ, Koong HN. Phasing-out tobacco: proposal to deny access to tobacco for those born from 2000. Tobacco Control. 2010 Oct. 1;19(5):355–60. doi: 10.1136/tc.2009.031153

LeBlanc, Steve. Court upholds town bylaw banning anyone born in 21st century from buying tobacco products. AP News. 2024 Mar. 11. https://apnews.com/article/tobacco-ban-21st-century-brookline-massachusetts-e9d54d60ddfe23f9d7e06eb724f5449a

Maa, John. Guest Blog: A Doctor and Tobacco Industry Whistleblower’s Take on Tobacco Endgame. Action on Smoking and Health. 2023 Mar. 23. https://ash.org/a-doctor-and-tobacco-industry-whistleblowers-take-on-tobacco-endgame/

Nicotine-Free Generation Approach: A Policy Overview. Public Health Law Center. 2024 Jan. https://www.publichealthlawcenter.org/sites/default/files/resources/Nicotine-Free-Generation.pdf

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