Surprise: Increasing the smoking age to 21 may be a terrible idea

Surprise: Increasing the smoking age to 21 may be a terrible idea

There's been a number of approvals to boost the smoking age -- but they may backfire spectacularly.

California lawmakers voted recently to bump up the legal smoking age from 18 years of age to 21, the same as the legal drinking age — but is this a good idea?

A new Los Angeles Times op-ed slams the proposal, arguing that while it may seem like a common sense solution, there is “showing that increasing the smoking age prevents a teen from picking up the habit,” states the op-ed.

But what’s the harm? Plenty, the op-ed argues, pointing to three communities in Massachusetts that implemented a “vigorous enforcement campaign” against underage tobacco sales back in the 1990s. Proponents believed this would cut smoking by making it harder to buy cigarettes, cracking down on stores that sold to youths. But it turned out to be a huge failure, as while the crackdown did prevent stores from selling tobacco to minors, teens still found ways to get cigarettes and there was no reduction in smoking use — in fact, teenage smoking increased compared to other communities.

It was until 1992 that Congress passed the Synar Amendment that set the legal smoking age at 18. That law halted a years-long decline in smoking, and smoking leveled off among youths rather than continuing their decline.

It’s an indication that regardless of how well-meaning such laws are, history indicates that trying to punish teens for activities that are perfectly legal for adults tend to have the opposite effect society wants, and so perhaps a better idea is to pursue other, more effective courses of action.

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