From an editorial Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune:
The vast majority of smokers start before they turn 21. That’s not surprising. Most adults at age 30 or 40 wouldn’t dream of lighting up. They are better able to weigh the risks of smoking against – we use this term generously – the rewards.
But too many younger people still light up. Even though they’ve heard the scary public service announcements. And the lectures from parents and teachers.
More stern talk probably won’t help. But a new study shows something that could: Ban tobacco sales to anyone under 21.
Right now, in most states, people can buy cigarettes legally at 18. But Hawaii has raised its tobacco sales age to 21, effective next year. Several cities, including New York, have already raised the tobacco purchase age. Note, however, that we’re talking here about restrictions on purchases; some jurisdictions also enforce minimum ages for the possession or use of tobacco products.
Is a hike in the buying age effective? Yes. A new study in the journal Tobacco Control shows that raising the age to 21 significantly reduces teenage smoking. Researchers studied Needham, Mass., which banned cigarette sales to people under 21 in 2005, while surrounding communities continued to allow sales at 18.
Surveys of 16,000 area high school students from 2006 to 2010 showed that fewer youngsters bought cigarettes. In Needham, smoking among those younger than 18 declined by nearly half – from 13 percent to 7 percent.
Smoking rates are falling because people are wising up to the hazards. Raising the tobacco sales age is worth a debate because it could accelerate that decline and save lives.
To stop smoking is a terrific feat. But it’s better to never start.