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Should the smoking age be raised 21?

By Cassidy Gaudes

It’s a universally-accepted fact that smoking is bad. People born in or after the mid-1960s, when scientists concluded smoking was linked to lung cancer, probably grew up hearing how bad smoking is. If I got a dollar for every time I heard about it in my 21 years, I could have paid my college tuition out of pocket.

I first heard about it when my mom told me about the time my dad proposed. She had told him that if he kept smoking, she wouldn’t marry him. I’m glad she said that since I was born with severe asthma and cigarette smoke from across the street can set it off.

Since 1990, the rate of lung cancer in men has dropped a little more than 34 percent since 1964, according to the American Cancer Society in 2014. Women’s rates did not start dropping until 2002, but has dropped nine percent and is expected to continue to drop.

However, in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 14 in every 100 adults smoke, which totals to 34.3 million adults in the U.S. and 16 million adults are living with a smoking-related disease.

States and counties across the U.S. are trying to combat cigarette health-related issues by raising the age to 21 to buy tobacco products. As of January 2019, six states have raised the limit to 21 years old as well as 350 localities including New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

Hawaii was the first state of the six to raise the tobacco age to 21 back in 2017. Recently, they proposed a new bill that would increase the legal age 10 years, every year to buy cigarettes until 2024, when people would have to be 100.

I agree with the Hawaii bill to change the age to 100, even if it is drastic. The plan may be too quick to raise the age, with some people given less than a year quit, causing them to go through a quick withdrawal and quit almost cold turkey. If this plan was drawn out more and warned smokers earlier, it would be a great plan. With the age to purchase at 100, smoking would almost be 100 percent illegal, as it preferably should be.

Smoking in certain public places such as the beach or sitting outside at a restaurant is still legal in some places. It is not fair to those who do not want to be around it or, more importantly, cannot be around it.

Raising the age would mean fewer people start smoking. The Institute of Medicine released a study in 2015, that said raising the legal age for tobacco to 21 would result in “Approximately 249,000 fewer premature deaths, 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost” for those born between 2000 and 2019. Hopefully, states will see this information and all 50 states will make the age 21.

Some of these tobacco laws aren’t increasing the age for is e-cigarettes, as many technically do not contain tobacco. Although e-cigarettes are widely thought to be safer than normal cigarettes they still can cause cancer. They also contain nicotine, which makes them addictive.  

In addition to raising the age for tobacco products, the age for e-cigarettes and vaping should be raised as well. Over the past few years, the amount of youth starting to use e-cigarettes and vape pens has drastically increased, some are calling it an epidemic. I agree. Before e-cigarettes, I hardly knew anyone who smoked. Now, I know a lot of people and many of them smoke e-cigarettes.

Raising the age limit to purchase tobacco is not enough. It should be the start. Smoking affects more than just the people smoking, it affects those around them too and that should be considered when making future laws. Until that happens, it appears that states will just be changing the age to 21. While some people might complain about the inconvenience it causes for them, it is a step in the right direction and hopefully other places will follow suit.

you can reach Cassidy Gaudes at cassidy.gaudes@spartans.ut.edu

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