Raising the Tobacco Age

21Opinions are running high on the proposal in the state of New Jersey to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21.  New York City is also considering a higher age limit.  The old argument for keeping the lower age limit goes something like this:  if 18 year olds are able to vote, join the military and marry, they should be old enough to buy tobacco. There are always pros and cons to every argument.

Yes, 18 year olds can vote, but the 18-24 year old age group typically have a low turn out. They are able to vote, but few exercise that choice.  Yes, 18 year olds can join the military, but it is not a requirement as it is in 26 other countries.  In the United States, joining the military is a choice.  Yes, 18 year olds can marry, but most of their parents are against it, and most teens lack the emotional maturity to maintain the relationship.   It is, however, still a choice.

But arguing for keeping the smoking age at 18 should also include why the drinking age was raised back to 21.  One reason was to reduce “the number of alcohol-related deaths on the nation’s highways,” which was “perceived to be a drunken driving epidemic.” Another reason was that the “developing adolescent brain is affected differently by alcohol than the adult brain.  The earlier one starts to drink, the more likely he or she will experience alcohol dependence and related problems later in life.”

All the arguments for raising the smoking age to 21 seem mirror all the reasons the drinking age was raised.  While the President’s Commission Against Drunk Driving deemed drunk driving an epidemic, the first line of the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report called tobacco use a “pediatric epidemic.”  After this report was released, the parent company of Philip Morris agreed and stated “kids should not use tobacco products, and we share the common goal of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of kids.”

As with alcohol, the younger a person is when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become regular tobacco users.  Nearly 90% of smokers reportedly started smoking regularly by age 18 while their teen brain was still developing and changing. Young people have a choice whether or not to use tobacco, but their immaturity is often their enemy and a factor in their experimentation.  Their consequential thinking and decision-making skills are just not there; however, impulsivity and risk-taking are. Experimentation with tobacco and the rapid onset of nicotine addiction in youth can set them up for lifelong health consequences before they have a full understanding of the addictive properties of tobacco.

Voting, marriage and joining the military are all choices.  Once young people start using tobacco, however, their choice regarding continuation is often taken away by their addiction to the product.  Raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 provides young people more time to develop informed decisions about an addiction that could shorten their lives.

Click HERE for news article.

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