California is the latest state that is seriously considering raising the smoking age from 18 to 21. The California Senate passed a bill raising the smoking age (pretty easily with a vote of 26-8); now the bill goes to the State Assembly.
The Hawaii Legislature passed a similar bill earlier this year and New York City raised the smoking age to 21. Some other states like Alabama, Utah, Alaska and New Jersey have a smoking age of 19.
This is an issue where I’ve dragged my feet a bit personally getting behind. A whole bunch of tobacco control groups are fully behind raising the smoking age to 21, such as Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society.
However, where I am reluctant to completely jump onboard is the knowledge that very, very few kids start smoking between 18 and 21. Most kids start smoking when they are 15, 14, 13 or even younger. So, it’s already against the law to sell cigarettes to kids under 18 and yet kids are managing to get their hands quite easily on cigarettes. I question if raising the smoking age to 21 is likewise going to have a constructive and tangible effect.
The Washington Post did a pretty good story on this, suggesting that there is data supporting the argument that raising the legal smoking age does have an effect on teen smoking rates. I’m guessing a reason why — it’s not very hard to 15- and 16-year-old kids to find 18-year-old friends at school or older brothers or sisters to buy their cigarettes for them. Not too many 21-year-olds hang out with 15- or 14-year-old kids, so with a higher legal smoking age, it might be harder for kids to find someone to buy their cigarettes for them. That’s a total guess on my part, but it makes sense to me.
There is also the Libertarian argument, that kids over the age of 18 are old enough to vote and die for our country, but they’re not old enough to buy cigarettes? I actually get that argument and have a hard time refuting it. At the same time, the argument for not allowing 18-21-year-old kids to drink makes sense to me, however, that kids do not have the judgement or experience yet at 18, 19, etc., to know when they should and should not get behind the wheel of a car if they have been drinking.