New Smoking Age Might Not Help, Won’t Hurt Either

Hawaii is the only state to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to those under the age of 21, and now Washington lawmakers are considering following suit to decrease the number of smoking related deaths. I’m skeptical if an age change could make a significant impact.

“If a person has not smoked by the time they turn 21, the odds are ’20-to-1’ they never will,” said tobacco company R.J. Reynolds—who by the way is one of the largest cigarette produces in the world— in a fact sheet from Ferguson’s office. While these odds—coupled with statistics from an American Journal of Preventive Medicine article that conclude three quarters of adults, including seven in 10 smokers, favor raising the minimum tobacco age of sale to 21 years—are promising, more needs to be done to decrease smoking trends.

Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that while cigarette smoking has declined among U.S. youth in recent years, other forms of tobacco, such as electronic cigarettes, hookahs and smokeless tobacco have become more popular. This popularity is made evident through the impossibility of not stumbling across viral videos of people vaping and doing smoke tricks on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

If people want to smoke, there are many who will do so regardless of the legal age. So while raising the age might help, it doesn’t do much to address the many other factors involved with tobacco use including complex social environments, mental health, socioeconomic status and media portrayal.

If Washington lawmakers really want to make a significant impact on the number of smokers and smoking related death, then we need a more comprehensive bill to reduce the availability of tobacco products and build better intervention programs in schools. Maybe these ideas won’t help—but they certainly couldn’t hurt either.

—Melissa Lin, Editor in Chief