Letter: Let’s raise the smoking age to 21

Brittney Thames

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The fact that the percent of adult smokers who begin smoking around age 18 is close to 90 percent should raise some policymakers’ eyebrows. Also taken into consideration is the average cessation age for those who start smoking at a young age is 33 years for males and 37 years for females. That means these kids grow up to become addicted to nicotine because of their youthful curiosity and experimentation. The most effective policy efforts to reduce cigarette consumption in this target population should be those that target adolescents.

It is noted that the effort put into preventing adolescents from smoking in the first place, primary prevention, is seven times greater than trying to get adults to stop smoking once they are already addicted. This makes perfect sense because if the youth can be stopped from engaging in cigarette smoking from the start then it wouldn’t be as huge of a problem to deal with down the road. I imagine it would reduce healthcare costs used for people who have medical issues related to long-term smoking.

Evidence for the success of laws restricting youth access to tobacco in reducing teen smoking has been mixed and even with a minimum smoking age, many minors are still able to buy cigarettes for themselves. While the proportion of underage smokers that usually buy their own cigarettes from stores has dropped from 38.7 to 18.8 percent between 1995 and 2003, the percentage of underage smokers who usually get cigarettes by giving money to other people to buy for them increased from 16 to 30 percent.

One important solution that can be used to address these loop holes in decreasing youth access is raising the minimum legal purchase age (MLPA) for tobacco to 21. Increasing the age for young adults to purchase tobacco products may decrease the likelihood of minors buying their own cigarettes by reducing the uncertainty of cashiers when determining whether or not a minor should be allowed to purchase cigarettes. For example, many 16-year olds can pass for 18; however, they may not be able to pass for 21.

Since the majority of underage smokers rely on social sources to have cigarettes purchased for them, if the MLPA increased teens will have less access to legal buyers. For example, a typical high school student can have access to an 18-year-old at their school or elsewhere, but it may be more difficult for them to come across a 21-year-old within their social circle. This could hopefully decrease the opportunity for high school students to ask for help in receiving cigarettes from adults 21 and over compared to those younger than 21.

These tendencies are shown as a result of a survey done by T. Radeki cited by Difranza and Coleman which they found that 90 percent of adults were asked by minors to purchase cigarettes were under 21 years old. Raising the minimum sales age for tobacco will save lives, while failure to do so endangers our youth if we just sit back and no nothing about it.

—  Brittney Thames, public health masters student

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Letter: Let’s raise the smoking age to 21