Two Western states with some of America's
lowest smoking rates are considering cracking down even more by raising the
tobacco age to 21.
Utah and Colorado lawmakers both voted favourably
on proposals to treat tobacco like alcohol and take it away from 18-
to 20-year-olds, a move inspired by new research on how many smokers start the
habit as teenagers.
Both proposals face several more votes. But
they're the furthest any states have gone to curb access to cigarettes by
teens. The director of tobacco studies at University College London didn't know
of any other countries considering a tobacco age threshold of 21, but he said
raising the tobacco age from 16 to 18 in the United Kingdom proved to be
"a public health winner".
Altria Group Inc., owner of the biggest US
cigarette company, Philip Morris USA, did not immediately comment.
First cigarette by 18
A paper published last year in the journal
Annals of Internal Medicine said that 9 out of 10 daily smokers in the US have
their first cigarette by 18, and that about 90% of cigarettes
purchased for minors are obtained by people between 18 and 20 years old.
The Washington-based Campaign For
Tobacco-Free Kids advocates the higher smoking age and argues that it could
make a serious dent in tobacco deaths down the road.
death rate higher
Armando Peruga, programme manager of the
World Health Organisation's Tobacco Free Initiative, said he supported the US
proposal, provided that it would be strictly enforced and that it was
accompanied by other tobacco control measures, such as high taxes and
"It needs to be part of a
comprehensive policy to counter the tobacco industry's influence on young
people," Peruga said.
Utah has lowest smoking rate
Four states, including Utah, already
require tobacco purchasers to be 19. The others are Alabama, Alaska and New
The 21-for-tobacco bills are also pending
in state legislatures in Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Maryland
lawmakers considered and rejected the idea this year. New York City last year
raised the tobacco age to 21, as did Hawaii County, Hawaii.
Utah already has the nation's lowest
smoking rate, about 12% in 2011 according to the Centres for Disease Control
and Prevention. Colorado isn't far behind, at about 18 percent in 2011,
according to the CDC.
Scrambled adolescent brain
Despite the low rates, health advocates in
both states testified that a higher tobacco age could depress the rates even
movies up teen smoking
When the legal age of smoking was raised
from 16 to 18 in the UK, there was a significant drop in the number of people
who started smoking, University College London's Robert West said.
"The ages from 18 to 21 is a period of
huge uptake and even if you're able to delay (teenagers) from starting smoking
rather than preventing it altogether, there would be a significant health
benefit. You're essentially allowing the rather scrambled adolescent brain to
settle down and avoid smoking during that period before they turn 21, after
which they may decide they absolutely do not want to smoke anyways," he
Picture: Smoking kills from Shutterstock
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