• Should purchasing tobacco be off limits to 18-20 year olds?

    That’s the subject of a thoughtful piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “Increasing the “Smoking Age”: The Right Thing to Do“. Looks like it’s behind a paywall, unfortunately.

    Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and the goal of comprehensive tobacco control is to reduce its harm to society. Helping smokers quit is insufficient – it is also critical to prevent young people from ever taking a puff on that first cigarette. toward this aim, New York city has proposed to increase the legal age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21 years and to make it illegal for merchants to sell tobacco to persons younger than 21 years.

    Why? First of all, because almost 9 out of 10 daily smokers have their first cigarette by 18 years of age, and those to become regular users usually do during young adulthood. Second, about 90% of cigarettes purchased for minors are obtained by people age 18-20 years. Finally, advertising has heavily focused on these age groups in the past.

    Sure, there are reasons to object. “Freedom”, for one. I’d buy into this more if I saw people making these arguments about alcohol. I’d also buy into it more if I didn’t know that states like Alaska and Utah have already raised the age to 19. I’ve seen people make business arguments, that this will hurt tobacco companies or bring in less tax revenue. I can live with both of these, as the positive tradeoffs likely outweigh the negatives. And before anyone starts claiming it can’t be enforced – again, I give you alcohol.

    NYC estimates that increasing the age to 21 years would reduce by more than half the number of people age 18-20 who smoke, and by two-thirds the number of kids 14-17 who smoke. That’s massive. They also report that more that almost 70% of non-smokers and 60% of smokers support this policy in the city.

    Looks like it might happen. I’m eager to see how this plays out.


    • I have a hard time with many of the latest efforts against smoking. We’ve covered all the low hanging fruit in terms of making smoking out of sight and out of mind. You can’t advertise cigarettes, you can’t sell them to kids, you can’t use them indoors, you can’t pay less than a minimum price floor for them etc. Many of these are well-designed, thoughtful regulations. But now we are coming out with more and more regulations that seem to me to have no other purpose than to stigmatize and inconvenience smokers, at no benefit to non-smokers. It all looks like we’re enacting a general prohibition in slow-motion, and I don’t think that’s any better an idea than enacting prohibition in real time.

    • I totally agree with this proposal! This is the right thing to do. Increasing the age limit to buy cigarettes will also increase the chance of helping other people from getting terrible cigarette causing diseases.

    • Dumb. Look sex causes illness and death and, even worse, pollutes the world with brats that we pretend to educate at great expense. I’m no smoker, but I’d encourage smoking over breeding.

      The best solution is to give folks a choice: give up either sex or nicotine.

    • I was struck by this – was anyone else…

      “First of all, because almost 9 out of 10 daily smokers have their first cigarette by 18 years of age”

      So we currently ban purchase before 18 – but 90% of teens get started before 18?

      I got an A in Logic in – what am I missing…

      • Unfortunately, you didn’t do as well in reading comprehension. The post clearly states: “Second, about 90% of cigarettes purchased for minors are obtained by people age 18-20 years.”

        A potentially reasonable response/objection: So why won’t they be purchased by those over 21?

        • @MV

          Going back to my experience as an underage drinker, the number of people I knew and could trust to not rip me off for a thirty pack or a bottle of bad whiskey who were both 21 and willing to break the law for me was a fairly small set of people (reliable membership of that set was 1 person with the occassional inclusion of the older sibling of someone in my tight social circle was dating at the time) The number of people who I knew as a 15 year old who were 18 and would have been willing to buy booze for me if they could access it was significantly higher as I was not an underage smoker but I knew enough underage smokers who got their smokes from their slightly older signficiant other or sibling of significant other.

    • I support the policy, but I think the “freedom” objection you mention is a straw man. An important part of the issue is whether or not 18-20 is the start of smoking onset, because if it typically begins much earlier (in age groups for whom tobacco sale is already prohibited) the policy would be relatively ineffective.

      Happily, so to speak, such a policy would target the right group.

      “Age 12–17: Significantly decreased from 2002 to 2010 (data shown only for this period given change in methodology).
      Age 18–25: Significantly increased from 2002 to 2010 (data shown only for this period given change in methodology).”

    • It would be good if it could be accomplished without drawing more young men into selling cigarettes illegally. IMHO the ban on marijuana sales draws some decent young men into selling marijuana putting them at risk of prison. I would rather we focus on methods that do not create such risks.