Dr. George Philippides, an American Heart Association advocate and chief of cardiology at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, issued the following statement Friday on legislation signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker that will raise the age of sale for tobacco products in Massachusetts to 21.

“Increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to 21 will help counter the tobacco industry’s relentless efforts to target youth at a time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. The American Heart Association applauds Gov. Baker and the Massachusetts Legislature for their leadership in reducing the number of young people who start on a path that too often leads to addiction, disease and premature death.”

The bill, signed by Gov. Baker Friday afternoon, takes effect on Jan. 1. It would not apply to anyone who is already 18 by that date. Massachusetts will join five other states – California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon – in enacting this lifesaving policy. Boston and more than 175 cities in towns in Massachusetts have already enacted local tobacco 21 policies, covering over 72 percent of the state’s population.

The need for bold action to further reduce tobacco use in the United States is clear. While enormous progress has been made, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S, killing more than 480,000 people each year and costing about $170 billion in health care expenses. According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, if current trends continue, 5.6 million of today’s youth will die prematurely from smoking.

Increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to 21 will help reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. It is estimated that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. Additionally, tobacco companies spend $8.9 billion a year – $1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products, much of it aimed at young people.

A 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine predicted that increasing the national tobacco sales age to 21 would significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking; reduce smoking-caused deaths; and immediately improve the health of adolescents, young adults and young mothers who would be deterred from smoking, as well as their children.