Green River Star -

By Dr. Banu Symington
Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County 

Improving Wyoming's health care includes reducing tobacco harm


February 21, 2018

In the upcoming 2018 legislative session, many states will be considering legislation, termed Tobacco 21. Tobacco 21 will effectively raise the legal sale age for all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to 21 – mirroring alcohol restrictions. This bill is aimed at saving the lives of U.S. citizens from the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death.

Cigarettes today are engineered to addict. When a person becomes a smoker, they are regularly consuming the only legal product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users.

Let us use a neighboring state as an example of what this means. With the current rate at which teens become regular smokers in Idaho, 30,000 kids now under 18 and alive in Idaho will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.

When smoking cuts a life short unnecessarily, it also adversely impacts the lives of the family, friends and neighbors of every victim of tobacco use. We are all familiar with tobacco-related cancer. Tobacco use (smoking and chewing) accounts for 26.6 percent of all cancer deaths in Wyoming. It also cuts lives short by causing emphysema, other chronic lung conditions, peptic ulcers, heart disease and stroke. Smoking is the No. 1 cause of emphysema.

As we continue to fight for better health care and coverage, passing Tobacco 21 in Wyoming would be a major step in reducing preventable deaths and fostering healthier lives for our children.

If a person can make it to their 21st birthday without becoming addicted to tobacco, they are much more likely to live their entire lives tobacco-free.

Let me say that again so it sinks in — postponing the start date for smoking can reduce overall smoking rates! In 2015, the Institute of Medicine reported the significant potential public health benefits of raising the tobacco sale age to 21. They demonstrated that delaying the start age for smoking decreases smoking-related deaths by 10 percent. This can save as many as 223,000 lives among people born between 2000 and 2019.

Smoking-related lung cancer and COPD/emphysema has been steadily rising in Wyoming, claiming a combined total of 600 lives a year! As a physician and cancer specialist, I’m asking Wyomingites to help take back control for the health of their communities. I’m asking our legislators to reduce the harms of tobacco by passing this legislation. Five states and hundreds of communities across the U.S. already have taken this significant step to raise the age to 21. Wyoming and its citizens deserve a brighter, healthier future free of tobacco and the harmful addiction of nicotine. This is what community health is all about.

To learn more about how you can help take action and share your support for Tobacco 21, visit

Dr. Banu Symington, MD MACP, is a hematologist-oncologist and medical director at MHSC’s Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center. She was the chief of staff and hematologist-oncologist at St. Lukes’ Health System Magic Valley Hospital. She is past governor of the Idaho chapter of the American College of Physicians.


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