Why Increasing the Smoking Age Won’t Do Anything


New Jersey’s legislature recently passed a bill that would raise the legal smoking age to 21. More specifically, no one under 21 can purchase tobacco prodFullSizeRenderucts (including e-cigarettes). Many anti-smoking groups believe this will help reduce underage smoking, and therefore, the number of adult regular smokers.

It won’t.

The idea behind increasing the purchasing or smoking age is that it will take tobacco products out of high schools since many seniors can legally purchase cigarettes. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the average age of a new smoker is 13. How do you think 13-year-olds, who are in junior high or middle school, obtain cigarettes? If a 13-year-old knows an 18-year-old, then it’s reasonable to believe a 16-year-old knows a 21-year-old.

If a teenager can obtain booze and weed, cigarettes will not be an issue, no matter how high you increase the minimum age.

There is also a logistics issue concerning geography. To date, only a handful of cities and one state have raised the purchasing age to 21. I live in Kansas City, which just recently passed a law increasing the age to purchase tobacco products. Just Kansas City, not the metro area. If someone under 21 in Kansas City wants cigarettes, they can probably walk or ride their bike to the next city that hasn’t passed the ordinance.

Even if the feds passed a similar law, obtaining cigarettes illegally has never been a major issue for those underage. Anyone who was an underage smoker can probably name a crummy gas station that had no problem selling to minors. Just recently, I saw some teenagers hanging outside the side of a convenience store asking strangers to buy them cigarettes and one guy did (not me, by the way). There’s always that one guy.

You can pass all the laws you want. At the end of the day, there is only one surefire way to prevent kids from smoking: good parenting. Education, discipline and a strong family unit yield better results than any legal punishment can produce. A child who doesn’t respect his or her parents’ wishes probably won’t respect the wishes of the law either.

And don’t get me started on the “old enough to die in war, but not old enough to drink or smoke” mantra.

If smoking is that bad (and it is), ban it. Otherwise, treat legal adults like…well…adults. Or how about this: Cure the disease rather than treat the symptoms, i.e. emphasize the importance of good parenting. Shaming also works. Lord knows our society has done a stellar job of stigmatizing smoking, and it has worked.

Fewer laws, more shaming and better parenting. I’ll run for president on that platform.

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