Raising the Age for Legal Tobacco Purchase Isn't the Best Way to Reduce Smoking

Some Texas lawmakers want to increase the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, a move they hope would discourage youngsters from smoking.Make no mistake. The longer youngsters go without using tobacco, the less likely they are to pick up this bad habit. But lawmakers should resist the urge to create another law to discourage smoking and focus efforts instead on educating youngsters about tobacco's dangers. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, a physician and the initiative's driving force in the House, says bills to hike the legal age will have support from Republicans. In previous sessions, similar bills died partly because many Republican lawmakers worried about the loss of sales tax revenue and intrusion into personal choice. This session, Zerwas says he expects companion bills and other help from Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and state Sens. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, among others. We understand their motivation. Discouraging smoking would lower rates of tobacco-related illnesses, such as cancer and emphysema, and result in fewer babies with tobacco-linked ailments. The savings could be as much as $406 million over five years, according to an analysis from the Department of State Health Services. The department also estimates that Texas could save about $5.6 billion in health care costs over 25 years, and preterm births would drop about 11.6 percent over 20 years.But we don't agree with their tactic.First, let's note that kids already use tobacco before they are legally able to purchase it. Federal statistics show that nearly 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the legal age of 18, and 11 percent of high school seniors reported smoking in the last month. Second, according to the Office of Adolescent Health, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tobacco use by adolescents has declined substantially in the last 40 years. About 6 percent of high school seniors in 2015 smoked daily, down from 28 percent in the mid-1990s. Smoking by even younger minors also has declined.   Continue reading...

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