What’s this? A new player has entered the debate about raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products, urging a move from 18 years old to 21.
Big Tobacco – including industry pacesetters like Reynolds American and even Juul, the company that makes electronic vaping devices – has declared support for the higher age limit. It’s quite a surprise, even though some consider it nothing more than a public-relations stunt.
Either way, our opinion is to run with this new support for pushing the smoking age upward to 21. New laws are popping up around the country, with nine states already enacting a new legal age limit and with numerous others considering it.
Among the states that considered a change is Minnesota, which has been a leader in anti-tobacco efforts over the years. A measure to increase the age passed the House but failed in the Senate.
That’s unfortunate, since the organization Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation points to tobacco use as the state’s leading cause of preventable death and disease. Smoking kills 6,300 annually in Minnesota and tobacco use costs the state approximately $7 billion each year in costs associated with health care, according to the group.
More than two dozen Minnesota cities and counties already have passed local ordinances to raise the smoking age to 21. Among the most recent was Mankato, whose City Council voted May 13 to increase the age limit. The vote came after nearly two full years of discussion, according to the Mankato Free Press.
Would raising the age limit from 18 to 21 really help? Researchers believe so. A recent piece written by the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead notes that raising the age limit to 21 would result in a 25 percent reduction in smoking among children aged 15 to 17.
Especially alarming is the use of vaping devices. A 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco survey showed 40 percent of the state’s high school students have tried e-cigarettes.
After smoking rates among students had been in decline for years, that’s no longer the case. Vaping devices are a likely reason why.
It’s a black eye on the nation’s anti-smoking effort, and it’s terrible PR for the companies that sell the devices. The fact that vaping devices utilize fruit- and candy-flavored inserts – and the fact that the devices often are made to look like innocent items like a computer flash drive – is another hit on tobacco-based companies.
Perhaps that is why Big Tobacco is joining the effort to raise the smoking age.
Whether it’s a PR move doesn’t matter. We say run with it, and use this recent momentum – including efforts by state legislatures and cities throughout the nation – to move the smoking age to 21.
Minnesota cities are taking the issue into their own hands as the state waffles. In North Dakota, no cities have moved the legal minimum wage.
Minnesota should work on this again next year and other states – including North Dakota – should follow suit.