Bill to increase smoking age is a mistake
On Monday, the Houston Chronicle revealed a lawmaker’s desire to increase the smoking age to 21. Rather than bringing positive change, this policy change would unfortunately be disastrous.
The lawmaker, Republican John Zerwas, is pushing for a bill that would raise the smoking age to 21 based on a previous proposal suggested by Democrats for nearly a decade.
Lawmakers and physicians alike who support this effort say that this could ultimately save lives and money. They arrive at this conclusion based on the suggestion that those “who don’t develop the habit in their teens are less likely to do so as adults.”
What this logic fails to realize is that despite a regulation that makes the legal smoking age 18, nearly 2,500 kids under 18 try smoking for the first time every single day. The peak years for smoking and beginning to smoke is between the ages of 11 and 13.
Furthermore, according to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost 80 percent of adult smokers begin their habits before they turn 18. So clearly, the current law prohibiting smoking under 18 is not working.
A new law that would only increase the year to 21 would not have a substantial impact on the teen smoking rates. Whether they get their first cigarette from the family or friends, teen smokers rarely go out and buy cigarettes themselves. Instead they rely on those around them to get access. Increasing the legal age would not target the means by which the teens get access to tobacco.
Beyond just the ineffectivity of the law, there’s another reason why a proposal to increase the legal age of smoking to 21 would be harmful to society.
Currently, the age of 18 is unique in that it’s the social division between a minor and a major. Yet legal age laws for drinking suggests that individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 are not capable of making an independent decision whether or not to buy their own alcohol.
This type of restriction creates a situation where an individual who is 18 can be punished as a major to the full extent of the law because they were mature enough to understand the consequences of the action, yet they are not mature enough to understand the harmful effects of alcohol or in the case of this proposed law, tobacco.
Furthermore, tobacco, unlike alcohol, does not create potential for one to harm another person through usage. Alcohol and the effects of drunk driving are well known, yet there is no such equivalent for smoking. Therefore, this proposal, while not only not affecting teen smoking rates, also undermines those who are aged 18 to 21.
Ultimately, as Zerwas admits himself, “There’s obviously some people who are going to see this as an infringement on rights and stuff, and those voices need to be heard. And yeah, that’s a loss of potential revenue.”
Awareness and programs to help ease people off the addiction are far better at reducing the prevalence of smoking.
Praneeth Kambhampati is a honors biomedical sciences sophomore and can be reached at [email protected]