Since 2009 the minimum age for buying tobacco was 18 according to The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Three states even had a higher limit, setting the legal age at 19. Moreover in six states 21 was voted as the right age at which one could legally buy cigarettes.
On Thursday the Institute of Medicine released a report entitled “Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products”. The panel of the institute analyzed several situations. They analyzed what would be the impact on teenagers if they raised the legal age to 19, what would be the impact on young people of 18 and 20 if the legal age were raised at 19 and went further and even analyze what effect it would have on 21 to 25-year old people if it were boosted at 25. The result was that increasing the legal age at 21 would have a bigger impact than setting it at 19, whereas rising the legal age at 25 would not change much.
The report suggests that in order to eliminate tobacco addiction one must think decades ahead. Teenagers have developing brains and they are vulnerable, therefore it is easy for them to become addicted to the nicotine compound in the cigarettes. In addition, they are not aware of what smoking costs them. Young adults are not in a better situation either. Almost 34% of the smokers in the US are people with ages between 21 and 24.This makes young adults the most extended age group of nicotine addicts. The good news is that adults older than 25 have fully developed brains and they are more likely to realize the effect of smoking on their budget and also how harmful it can be for their health. A 25-year old person who is not a smoker has less than 1% chances of taking up this habit.
The research concluded that when they experiment smoking, adolescents have a good chance of becoming daily smokers. Therefore it is important to influence their decisions. The best way to do this is to set the legal age of purchasing cigarettes at 21. As a result, adolescents will be discouraged from trying smoking not because of the legal barriers that prohibit buying cigarettes, but because of the social distance that they feel regarding people who can legally smoke. Robin Mermelstein of the University of Illinois said that right now, when the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes is 18, it is much easier for a 16-year old teenager to have contact with an 18-years old person. Even though they may have family members who are smokers or friends who can supply them with cigarettes, teenagers will feel a greater distance from those who are 21 than from people who are 19. The distance would be even greater if the legal age was boosted to 25, but according to the investigation this would not prevent many teenagers from taking up smoking.
The overall result of the report is that the number of smokers of America will be reduced with 12%. In addition, the cases of premature deaths caused by cigarettes will be reduced with 249,000 in the case of people born between 2000 and 2019. There will also be up to 286,000 fewer premature births and 438,000 fewer underweight babies at birth.
If the legal age were to shift from 18 to 21 it will seriously affect the US tobacco industry, worth $100 billion. This change will reduce 2% of the sales according to the estimate done by Jonathan Winickoff of Harvard Medical School published last year in the American Journal of Public Health.
The report raised different reactions from tobacco companies. Lorillard declared they prefer the current legal age, whereas Reynolds American Inc. have no problem with leaving this matter to the federal authorities. The company agrees that the minimum age for buying cigarettes is indeed an important issue and that they are against youth use of tobacco. Altria Group Inc. is of the opinion that local governments should leave the matter to the FDA and Congress.
The immediate effect triggered by the raising of the minimum age for cigarette purchasing would be an outbreak of political discussions and contradictions leading to a policy which will probably affect small businesses.
Several cities among which almost 50 towns in Massachusett, Evansont, Illinois and Columbia, Missouri have already raised the legal age to 21. The restriction is not applies only to normal cigarettes, but also to electronic ones, cigars and snuff.
A studied published in the journal Tobacco Control showed that the change of the legal age to 21 is supported by more than 70% of Americans and by 58% of current smokers. The increase of the legal age would help with stopping cigarette use before it becomes a deep-rooted adult habit.
Image Source: The Guardian
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