Senator Stuart Reid has introduced a bill (S.B. 12) to increase the age requirement to 21 years old for anyone purchasing, possessing, or even “being present at certain establishments where tobacco, e-cigarettes, or paraphernalia are sold or used”.
Some questions I’ll address in this article include: Is the bill necessary? Will it have the desired effect? Is it fair?
Is S.B. 12 necessary?
Smoking rates have decreased significantly over the past 50 years and they continue to drop year after year. According to the CDC, Adults in the 18-24 age group smoke at a lower rate (18.9%) than adults age 25-64 (~22%), which is a good indicator that we will continue seeing drops in tobacco use as older generations pass on. Utah is in even better shape than the rest of the country, with an overall smoking rate of just 9.1%, a stat that has seen big drops in the past 10 years. As reported in the Deseret News, the Utah teen smoking rate has dropped 50% in recent years, from 11.9% in 1999 to 5.9% in 2011.
Things are happening in the free market that will help the continued decrease of tobacco use. CVS, the largest pharmacy chain in the United States with more than 7,400 locations, recently announced they will no longer sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in their stores. This will likely encourage other stores to do the same, and contribute to further drops in tobacco use.
Will S.B. 12 have the desired effect?
The purpose of the bill, presumably, is to discourage young people from ever starting to use tobacco. Currently, roughly 90% of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 18. This means that current laws prohibiting underage smoking have not stopped minors from picking up smoking in their teens. Would raising the legal age to 21 make any kind of significant difference? Probably not.
Is S.B. 12 fair?
Our society has widely determined that the legal age of adulthood is 18. When a citizen of Utah reaches this age they can vote in our elections, they can join the National Guard or active duty military, they can be sent to war and even die in the service of their country. Why, then, should the state prohibit them from an activity that would be legal for adults age 21 and older? If tobacco use is legal for some adults, it should be legal for all adults.
Persuasion instead of force
Modern health science has made it clear that tobacco use is bad for you. It is the number one preventable cause of death in America, with 480,000 killed each year. It is a very worthwhile endeavor to work to educate others on the danger of smoking, and by so doing prevent them from picking up the habit. When doing so, we should use persuasion and not force. Government is force, so when we use government to control behavior we are using force to change the way someone lives their life. Government has its proper role in society, but preventing tobacco usag, in my opinion, is not its proper role. As the Libertas Institute said in their summary of S.B. 12, “we should seek for ways to encourage young adults (and all individuals) to avoid addictive, self-destructive behavior. Non-profit organizations, parent groups, health insurance agencies, churches, and other voluntary institutions should coordinate their efforts and work through persuasion to combat tobacco and other addictions. However it happens, the state should play no part.”