Here in the United States, laws are in place to keep youth under the age of 18 from purchasing cigarettes. However, those laws do not seem to deter youth from getting and using tobacco at an early age. Considering tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, “teen and young adult smoking remains a public health concern.”
As you can see in the chart on the left, cigarette use more than doubles in the 18 to 20 age group, when tobacco sales are first legal, compared to the 16 or 17 year old age group. About 1 in 4 young adults (24.0%) smoke once they hit legal age, versus 1 in 10 smokers (10.2%) in the 16 or 17 age bracket. And when compared to the 16 or 17 year age group, those in the 21 to 25 year old group have seen their cigarette use triple. The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report states”the majority (88%) started smoking before 18 years of age, and nearly all first use of cigarettes occur before 26 years of age,” and the chart bares this out.
Currently, high school students who turn 18 can legally purchase tobacco, and many are also purchasing for younger siblings, peers and friends. Raising the tobacco age to 21 across the U.S. would have a huge impact on youth smoking, especially in the 18 to 20 year age group, It would also decrease numbers for the next age group of 21 to 25 year olds, which currently has the highest cigarette use. While it may take years to see decreases in other age groups, they would also come down over time.
In addition to raising the tobacco age to 21, increasing the number of tobacco prevention classes taught in U.S. school would also decrease the number of long-term smokers. Florida, with our Tobacco Prevention Training for Educators training program, is a prime example of how effective tobacco prevention education can be. Educators in Florida are encouraged to take our course for professional development points, earning up to 60 points toward their teacher certificate renewal, which is up to half of their professional development requirements during any 5-year renewal period. So far this past year alone, over 7,000 Florida students in K-12 have been directly impacted from teacher training lessons generated from our two online training courses. These tobacco prevention training lessons have paid off as Florida has one of the lowest current cigarette use by high school students in the nation at 6.9%.
Click HERE for the SAMHSA link of The CBHSQ Report. Chart from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.