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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Local health professionals held a town hall meeting Wednesday to educate community members about a new program called, “Tobacco 21.”

Tobacco 21 is a national effort to raise the age limit to buy and use tobacco products to 21.

Currently, five states and 270 cities across the nation have adopted similar policies.

“It’s one of the most evidence based strategies we could take to actually reduce smoking in our state,” IUPUI Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health Dean Dr. Paul Halverson said. “I don’t’ think anybody wants people to be addicted to tobacco in Indiana. If we can figure a way to reduce that particularly for our youth it would be great.”

Dr. Halverson presented to the group Wednesday and explained smokers cost the state of Indiana nearly $6 billion dollars a year, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

“For every pack of cigarettes sold in Indiana, we spend $15.90 both in medical costs and in lost productively,” Dr. Halverson said.

Dr. Halverson added increasing the age limit on who can buy tobacco products would create a 25 percent drop in the number of youth who start smoking and drop overall smoking rates by 12 percent.

“Most smokers wouldn’t start if they didn’t smoke before 21,” Dr. Halverson said. “It’s not hard for a 16-year-old to find an 18-year-old to buy them tobacco. In fact, 90 percent of the time it’s somebody who is 18.”

Dr. Halverson said he’s working with a  group of other medical professionals, local hospitals and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce to advocate for the law change at a state level next year.

Dr. Halverson added even the military is behind the measure.

“The reality is they don’t want their recruits or soldiers smoking because it increases their medical costs and it reduces the physical stamina and ability of their soldiers,” Dr. Halverson said.

Similar legislation to raise the age to buy tobacco products was introduced last session in the Indiana General Assembly, but died in the House of Representatives.