Old Enough to Vote but Not to Smoke
Despite objections that 18 year olds should be treated like adults and allowed to smoke, local governments are trying to prevent the next generation of young adults from becoming victims of the tobacco industry.
Last year Chicago banned the sale of all flavored tobacco products, which are marketed to attract young customers, within 500 feet of schools. In October of 2014, the city council just down the road in Evanston, Ill., joined a growing list of cities in banning tobacco sales to anyone under the age of 21.
From Needham, Massachusetts to New York City to Sonoma County, communities recognize that increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 is a necessary step towards ending the tobacco epidemic. Several states (Alaska, Alabama, New Jersey and Utah) have raised the minimum purchase age to 19; New Jersey is now considering raising the legal age to 21.
Cigarette smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. Although the number of adolescents under the age of 18 who smoked a cigarette for the first time has remained steady over the last 14 years at 1.1 million, the number of people over the age of 18 who did so nearly doubled. Today, nearly half of all new smokers are young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.
Raising the legal purchase age is intended to protect both age groups—it should make it harder for teens to get cigarettes from older friends and family members and will hopefully reduce the number of young adults who pick up the habit. Raising the legal age to purchase tobacco will also likely contribute to reducing tobacco-related disparities. Women and racial/ethnic minorities are more likely to develop tobacco-related health problems and more likely to start smoking at age 18 or later compared to other populations.
Three years ago, CASAColumbia recommended raising the minimum legal age to purchase cigarettes to 21 in its report, “Adolescent Substance Use: America’s # 1 Public Health Problem.”
Now the momentum is growing and we hope more communities will adopt CASAColumbia’s proposition and help stop the next generation from smoking.
Azure Thompson, DrPH
Azure Thompson is Research Scientist, Associate Director of Policy Research and Analysis at CASAColumbia