From an editorial Tuesday in the Washington Post:
Forty-two million Americans still smoke. That is a much smaller proportion of the population than decades ago. Education programs, changing social attitudes and higher tobacco taxes have pushed the smoking rate down, and cigarette bans have made the air a lot less foul in public places. But a new report articulates the logic behind an additional approach to fighting tobacco: Raise the age at which people can legally buy tobacco products to 19, 21 or even 25. Cities, states and even Congress should consider this option seriously.
Most states require tobacco buyers to be at least 18. But four states have moved the age to 19, and New York City and a few others have raised it to 21. The Institute of Medicine found that increasing the age to 21 would reduce smoking by 12 percent. It found much smaller effects for an age limit of 19 and slightly better results for 25.
These findings make sense. Nicotine’s pleasurable effects are strongest on teenage brains, making addiction much more likely.
It’s tricky figuring out when to treat young people as adults – mature enough to drink, smoke, vote, fight or engage in other activities. But, the report shows, while policymakers aren’t about to clear up that mixed message, 18 isn’t the soundest place to set the smoking age. Cities, states and the federal government should listen.