Columns Opinion

Bill to increase smoking age is a mistake

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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]


  • OKAY so you wrote a nice little opinion piece but in no way illustrated any reason on why it is a bad idea to limit the age. Everyone gets that habits can start at much younger than the legal limit but by making it more difficult and illegal to smoke it will in turn deter some from smoking and picking up the unhealthy and nasty habit.

  • I endorse Sally Boynton Brown for DNC Chair.

    Simple solve … double cigarette prices for ages 18-20.

  • Oy. I will preface my comment by saying pretentiousness, bullying, discriminating or whatever other misinterpretation one might attach to my review is not my intent. Think before reacting.

    Here is some constructive criticism from, well, – a nobody, really. Just a student reader who has turrets of editing.

    A couple of things I noticed in the print edition that made this piece a little distracting to read:

    From a structural review, paragraphs three, four, and five could have been condensed to one concise paragraph. Also, paragraph seven could have been added to an earlier paragraph; it is oddly placed. Paragraph eight could have given a topic sentence rather than saying it’s going to introduce a new topic, which comes in the following paragraph, kind of. Also, to say that a law that endeavors to save lives and money, however improbable, is “harmful” sounds quite drastic.

    Paragraph nine is where the content starts to spin out. Very poorly worded so that the writer’s indignation is noticed,
    but ineffectively transferred to us readers. The opening sentence of paragraph 10 is not a convincing argument, the writer seems to be merely making statements which is problematic when a reader is trying to engage productively with a piece. Within the same paragraph the writer writes that the proposal is “not only not affecting” teen smoking rates, but undermining those of age. “Not only not”? This is a very poor choice of words and arrangement, here. “This proposal not only has zero affect on teen smoking rates, but undermines the freedom of choice for those who are of legal age.” I’m not sure if he was trying to say exactly this since the statement given is vague and unsupported, but here’s an example that works better, I think.

    The final paragraph states that it’s better to treat addiction than prevent it which seems like an ignorant statement to make. He says treatment better reduces the prevalence of smoking that prevention. But, earlier in the article he says that prevention isn’t possible.

    Here are just a FEW of the things in this article that don’t exactly enhance the professionalism or establish a baseline of excellence for The Cougar.

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