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.


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