Friday, December 11, 2015

Why We Should Raise the Legal Smoking Age to 21

Taking certain actions seem to be such an obviously good idea that one is occasionally startled to realize that they haven’t happened.  Bloomberg Businessweek created such a moment when a brief editorial comment was encountered in a recent issue: Raise the Smoking Age to 21.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been tracking smoking as a deadly disease for a long time, and the path to addiction is clear.  This document provides this insight.

“Nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18, and 99% first tried smoking by age 26.”

And it provides this perspective on the lives of smokers.

“CDC analyzed 2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data to describe U.S. adult smokers' interest in quitting, quit attempts in the past year, successful recent smoking cessation, and use of evidence-based cessation treatments and services by demographic characteristics. This report describes the results of that analysis, which found that 68.8% of current smokers want to completely stop smoking, 52.4% of smokers had made a quit attempt in the past year, and 6.2% of smokers had successfully quit within the past year.”

So, developing a smoking addiction is a young person’s problem, but once hooked, most spend the rest of their lives trying to escape from the filthy habit. 

It seems obvious that every step should be taken to eliminate access to tobacco products by young people.  This need not be totally effective in order to produce a reduction in addiction.  Developing a need for a drug like nicotine is a complex process.  One does not smoke one cigarette and become addicted.  It requires frequent use of the drug plus social support for the habit (peer pressure) in order to take hold.

Any action that makes frequent smoking difficult is likely to be beneficial.  The Bloomberg Businessweek article provides this background information.

“Hawaii became the first state to make this change after observing the success of the first such local law, in Needham, Massachusetts. Since Needham's ordinance was adopted in 2005, youth smoking there has fallen by more than half. In 2013, New York became the first big city to follow suit (under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP). Today, nearly 100 localities in eight states have done so, and more are considering it. States have been slower to act; the California Senate passed such a bill this summer, and the Massachusetts legislature is also weighing the change.”

It also provides an argument to be used on critics of the 21 year age limit.

“Critics make a familiar counterargument: If 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the military, why can't they light up? It's a fair point. This age group also can't drink alcohol, however, and the case for limiting access to tobacco is even stronger, because there's no safe level of tobacco use.”

The article provides a compelling reason for raising the age limit.  Who knows more about getting young people addicted to tobacco products than the tobacco companies?

“….a Philip Morris memo from the 1980s warned, ‘Raising the legal minimum age for cigarette purchaser to 21 could gut our key young adult market (17-20)’."

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