The legal age for smoking was raised from 18 to 21 on a Federal level in December 2019. Several states had already taken the initiative to raise the age in an effort to reduce the number of young people who smoked, but now it is the law on a national level.
Young people all over the country are going to have to wait until they are 21 in order to purchase anything considered to be a tobacco product, including vapes, loose tobacco, and cigarettes. This new law even includes products that contain no tobacco, like non tobacco chew.
You may wonder what raising the legal age by just a few years will do, but raising the minimum drinking age to 21 in 1984 saved lives. That’s the goal this time around as well.
Raising the Smoking Age Leads to Fewer Smokers
Most of us can think of at least a couple of things we would have tried at 18 that we would have passed up at 21. Tobacco companies have always intentionally targeted young people, creating ads that appeal to minors. In a study conducted in 2016, the top three most popular brands among middle and high schoolers were the three most heavily advertised: Marlboro, Newport, and Camel.
In the 1980s, a marketing brief at Phillip Morris stated that “today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer,” and that brief was absolutely correct. The younger you are when you start smoking, the more likely you are to become addicted.
If young people have to wait until they are 21 in order to legally purchase cigarettes, they are that much closer to having more control of their executive functioning. Even if they try smoking after they turn 21, the choice to have another—and another—is more of a conscious decision.
Raising the Smoking Age Cuts Off Access for Younger People
We all know that some kids don’t even wait until they are 18 to start smoking, but how do they get cigarettes if it’s illegal to purchase them? Older students. When the legal age to purchase cigarettes was 18, then there were still plenty of teens in high school—mingled with students as young as 14 or 15—who were able to get tobacco products.
These older teens often provided cigarettes to their younger friends, but most students have graduated by the time they are 21. So there is more separation between very young teens and people who are old enough to get cigarettes.
Raising the Smoking Age Reduces Peer Pressure
It’s harder to resist trying cigarettes if everyone in your friend group is smoking. When people still in high school can buy cigarettes and supply them to their friends, youth who would prefer not to light up face more pressure.
Peer influence doubles the smoking risk for younger teens. So if teens are not around peers who smoke, they are half as likely to pick up cigarettes themselves. Raising the age keeps younger people from spending time with people who smoke, which reduces the feeling of pressure to start.
Ways You Can Help the Youth in Your Life Avoid Tobacco
One of the most important ways you can help the youth in your life avoid smoking is to not smoke yourself. Teens are more likely to give cigarettes a try if they see people they look up to and respect smoking. If you do smoke, quit.
You can be a better influence on young people even if you do smoke by acknowledging how important it is for your health that you quit, and then quitting. Struggling is okay, and young people will know when they see you working hard at kicking the habit that this is serious business.
In addition to avoiding cigarettes yourself, talk to the teens in your life about what attracts them to cigarettes. Help them understand ways in which tobacco companies try to get them as customers, by making cigarettes look sexy and mature.
Take some time to talk about the future, too. Many smokers have the, “it won’t happen to me” attitude, and that just isn’t true. Most people know at least one person whose life has been affected by their smoking habits, either through lung or heart disease. Help teens put a tangible reality to the future consequences of their actions today.
Resources for Quitting
If you want to quit smoking or using other tobacco products but are not sure where to start, know that you are not alone. There are tons of resources and communities out there meant to support you no matter where you are in your journey toward giving up tobacco.
In addition to plenty of information and support, you can find a number of products that will help you be successful. Nicotine replacements, tobacco alternatives, and vapes can all be used to help people 21 and over who are serious about kicking the habit.
Even if you started smoking before you were 21, it’s not too late to quit. Stopping today may just give you another tomorrow in the future.