Column: Raising the smoking age to 21 a poor decision

The end of last week brought about an interesting passage of legislation in California. On March 3, 2016, the California State Senate passed a bill that would ban the use and purchase of tobacco supplies to those under the age of 21 and would prohibit the use of “e-cigs” in areas where smoking is also banned. (Fried Dough/Creative Commons)

The end of last week brought about an interesting passage of legislation in California. On March 3, 2016, the California State Senate passed a bill that would ban the use and purchase of tobacco supplies to those under the age of 21 and would prohibit the use of “e-cigs” in areas where smoking is also banned.

This bill is a poor method of addressing the tobacco epidemic and should not be signed into state law.     

In the United States, an individual is considered a adult both in the eyes of the law and of society when they turn 18. It is the year that children earn their high school diplomas and the time that individuals leave home to go to college and to start their adult lives. It is also the time that young men have to register with the Selective Service and all young adults can enlist in the military.

We as a society task all those in the military with protecting American interests and citizens overseas and at home. We trust that they will give up their own lives if necessary to protect our rights. Should the same honor not be extended to them? These young men and women are expected to make the ultimate sacrifice, and therefore should be entitled to choose what they decide is best for them.

Tobacco use is a disgusting habit which damages the body both inside and out, and often leads to disease and death. However, the decision to use tobacco should not be decided by the government. That decision should come from each individual.

Contrary to popular belief, despite continued popularity, young adults are very informed about the dangers of smoking and using tobacco. If we are expecting young men and women to live and die for this country, we should give them all possible and reasonable freedoms.

The United States has a complex history regarding the legalization of dangerous drugs. In 1920, the 18th Amendment banned the sale of alcohol. The amendment aimed to stem what was seen as a growing moral decay of society and eventually led to the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. 

But the 18th Amendment had some other major consequences as well. It helped create an epidemic of organized crime, giving rise to the era of Al Capone and others. It also cut down on tax revenues that could have helped the United States during the start of the Great Depression. In 1933, the 21st Amendment was approved, repealing the disastrous attempt at prohibition authorized by the 18th Amendment.

Later in 1980s and on, Presidents Nixon and Reagan began the War on Drugs,  focused on eliminating illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin. This created a multi-generational system that landed many in jail and created a thriving, illicit drug trade.

All of this proves that prohibition and restriction do not work. Every time the United States has opted to ban some kind of drug in some shape or form, a thriving drug trade has been born. Is that the kind of future we want to create for our children and our society? This kind of solution is not the kind that the state of California should pursue. Raising the age for tobacco consumption and purchase will not stem usage.  

The best option is to instead push a heavy tax onto tobacco products like the state of New York has. The best way to cut off someone’s supply is by making tobacco products too expensive for teenagers to purchase. While this method would not stop most employed adults from using tobacco, it would restrict the abilities for minors and young adults to buy tobacco products.

With a pack of cigarettes averaging $11, it would be almost impossible for a young person to afford that kind of lifestyle and would discourage the use of tobacco.

In a perfect world, nobody would be buying tobacco products because everyone would understand the dangers of using such products. This, however, is not a perfect world and as a result these dangers will always exist. Instead of enacting laws that infringe on the rights of our soldiers, it would be better to enact laws that make it more difficult for those who use tobacco to do so affordably.

That is the best solution to California’s problem. 


Amar Batra is a contributor to the Daily Campus opinion section, and is also a senior staff photographer. He can be reached via email at amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.