The Hype Behind ‘Tobacco 21’

While the “level of adolescents and young adults smoking cigarettes” has decreased, bigtime, in the last decade, the trend isn’t keeping Nanny Statists from pushing a higher age limit to purchase cigarettes.

New Jersey fell in line last week, and hiked its legal limit from 19 to 21. The Garden State’s wildly unpopular governor claimed that the bill gives “young people more time to develop a maturity and better understanding of how dangerous smoking can be.” Earlier in the month, Oregon’s governor signed a similar bill.

Insisting that smoking is not “a right and a benefit,” but an “addiction and a societal burden,” “Tobacco 21” is working to pass the restriction in both states and cities. It claims that there is “strong outcome-based data” to support its lobbying effort, citing an analysis of students attending Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts.

But as the Reason Foundation noted earlier today, the “data” are “undercut by a 2015 Institute of Medicine study (found on Tobacco 21’s own website). ‘Although Needham … has been cited as having seen significant declines in tobacco use and tobacco-related disease, there are no published data on these outcomes,’ the paper notes. The paper explains that no baseline data exists for Needham prior to its raising the smoking age, and that other factors could have been responsible for the decline.”

In 2013, the Cato Institute’s Patrick Basham and John Luik observed: “Very few teens buy cigarettes at a retail outlet; the overwhelming majority (95 percent) get their tobacco from friends or family. So the retail accessibility of tobacco is largely irrelevant to their decision to smoke.” Rebelling against parents, peer pressure, siblings smoking, low incomes, and having a single parent are among the reasons teens pick up the cancer sticks.

Happily, New Mexico has not embraced gotta-be-21-to-smoke sophistry. In 2017’s regular session, far-left Sen. Cisco McSorley sponsored a bill that would have imposed the rule, with exceptions for military personnel over 18 and customers “who had had their eighteenth birthday prior to July 1, 2017.” It went nowhere. And units of local government in the Land of Enchantment have yet to join the “Tobacco 21 Cities.”

With all the challenges facing New Mexico, a fight over hiking the smoking age to 21 would be a pointless distraction. Let’s hope the idea stays dead, and time and resources can be devoted to finding real solutions to public problems.

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