There are a wide variety of products that are considered so potentially dangerous to public health that their use is restricted to people who have reached a certain age of maturity and physical development.
There is a long history that recognizes tobacco, as a substance both deeply addictive and harmful to health, including the Children's Act of 1908 in the UK, that banned tobacco use by children 16 years old or younger. Today, all states and territories of the United States ban the sale of tobacco to anyone under 18. This month, California became the second state, after Hawaii, to raise the minimum age to 21.
New Anti-Smoking Laws:
Governor Jerry Brown signed this new law on May 4, 2016, alongside other anti-smoking legislation that would restrict the use of electronic cigarettes in public, place larger no-smoking areas around schools, and increase the licensing fee for tobacco retailers. He vetoed a bill that allowed city governments to establish their own tobacco taxes, referencing taxes being introduced as propositions for the election on November 8, 2016. These bills passed in spite of some lobbying from the tobacco industry, and some opposition arguing they restricted personal freedom.
The Tobacco 21 law will make it illegal to sell any tobacco-containing products to anyone under 21. Active military personnel are exempt, and may continue to buy cigarettes at 18. The bill was authored by State Senator Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) saying it will save lives, and "disrupt the chain of adolescent addiction." The law will become effective on June 9, 2016, much faster than other bills approved this legislative session, which take effect January 1, 2017. It marks the most expansive efforts to limit tobacco use in the state in more than a decade.
A Recurrent Health Crisis:
Although cigarette use is declining in the U.S., tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the country. The Los Angeles Times reports that 34,000 Californians die from smoking-related causes every year. Thus, fighting tobacco use remains a vitally important public health issues.
Furthermore, the majority of smokers start at a young age, which is why raising the minimum age can make a huge difference. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 90 percent of all smokers start before they are 21. Because adolescent brains are still developing, they are significantly more susceptible to developing addiction to nicotine. The biggest impact of this law would be a drop in smokers aged 15-17, many of whom currently rely on 18-year old friends to illegally buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes for them.
A 2015 study by the National Institute of Medicine suggested that a nation-wide raising the minimum purchase age to 21 would save 200,000 lives of people born after 2000, including 50,000 who would not get lung cancer. The same study also found there would be a 12 percent drop in tobacco use by the time those teens became adults. By moving legal tobacco that much further out of the hands of growing children, the law will save many lives, as well as millions of dollars in the healthcare system.
More than 100 cities in the U.S., including New York and Boston, have also raised the age minimum to 21 as well. In fact, the statewide ban was introduced in the State Assembly days after a similar law passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
There is still more work that can be done helping educate children about the risks of smoking, and other laws that can be passed to further discourage them away from the dangerous and addictive habit.
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