An editorial in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the rest of the nation follow the example of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg; one of the last pieces of legislation with his signature on it is one that prohibits the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to those under 21. The author suggests that “Tobacco 21” is an idea “whose time has come.”
The bill puts the onus of responsibility on the shoulders of retailers, who will face fines if they sale to “minors”. The FDA has set the legal age to buy tobacco at 18, but emphasizes that state and local governments are entitled to raise that age limit if they deem it necessary. As of the signing of the Tobacco 21 bill, New York has the strictest regulations on tobacco and e-cigarette sales in the nation.
One local government that raised the age limit for tobacco purchase is Needham, MA, according to the NJEM article. In 2010, 12.9% of high school students in Needham smoked. After raising the age limit to 21, the percentage of high school smokers plummeted to 6.9%.
Studies have shown that adolescents become addicted more quickly and at lower levels of nicotine consumption than adults do, in part because their brains have not fully developed, leaving them more vulnerable to the talons of addiction.
And speaking of maturity, I think this will factor in and help reduce high school smoking for another reason. After all, most high schoolers are under 18, the lower age limit for tobacco use. As is the case with alcohol, the way minors get their hands on tobacco products is through older kids buying it for them. I would imagine that it will be a lot more difficult for a sixteen year old to find an adult over the age of 21 to buy cigarettes for them than it is to find an 18 year old to do the same. . .