Protection through restriction

In the recent article published on March 5, 2016 by the Editorial Board at the New York Times, “Raise the Legal Age for Cigarette Sale to 21,” they say that overall public health could be improved in the state of California by raising the required age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. (This would also include e-cigarettes.) The Editorial Board points out that passing these laws would cut down on the number of young people becoming addicted to the aforementioned substances.

As a result, it is argued that this would prevent many future premature deaths due to tobacco related diseases.

Overall, the Editorial Board’s argument for raising the age is of substance, and it is beneficial to set laws in such an influential state as California. I agree that the laws could improve public health, and reduce young people’s access to tobacco products, and there is obvious public support, even from former and current smokers.

The Editorial Board’s article is one example of a growing trend on this topic.

More and more people are paying attention to this because it could affect them, especially in California. If passed, the laws would make California the second state to change the legal age to 21 in regards to tobacco products behind Hawaii and more than 100 cities and counties around the nation. The Editorial Board (2016) points out that “The bills now go back to the Senate for final passage” and argues that “Governor Jerry Brown should sign these measures, because they would significantly improve public health”.

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As a result setting a precedent with the areas already starting the trend. (In addition residents of California will get to vote for or against increasing the statewide tax on cigarettes by upwards of $2 per pack in November). Along with improvement of public health the board also identified that the biggest reason to raise the legal age to 21 would be to reduce the youth’s access to tobacco products. They pointed out two advantages to this concept of reduced access: because young people’s brains are still developing they are more likely to become addicted to nicotine (so it makes sense to keep them away from these substances) and the increase in age would even help prevent even younger people than 18 from getting access to these products from friends.

An exception to this rule as pointed out by the board as being “needless” (para. 8) would be active-duty military personnel (who would still be allowed to buy at age 18). As big of a deal as this is the public seems to be on the Editorial Board’s side with this article as nearly 75 percent of adults surveyed supported to change of age (para. 7) according to researchers at The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (AJPM). The Board’s piece points out all the positive arguments as to why these laws should get passed and that California would be the next ideal and influential state to do so.

In my opinion, the Editorial Board’s arguments are correct and are indeed very strong. I think the public would greatly benefit with improved overall health. With regards to the three main points of the author’s article: broad public support, increasing the age restrictions, and reduced youth access; I agree with the the article as a whole. It would be beneficial for a state as big and as influential as California to set a new legal age for these products. Compared to banning tobacco (which is highly unlikely and unenforceable) or doing nothing at all, increasing the age limit is just about the most enforceable laws they could use.

This may only cut down on a percentage of youth that start using tobacco products. Those who want to use it, will find a way if compared to the use of marijuana in teens regardless of the legality. It is a healthy medium to reduce the number of young people that start using these products and become addicted. As a result I believe and agree this will improve the overall public health in the future and cut down on tobacco-related premature deaths. (The increase in taxes if passed by the public would also benefit the government by increasing funds for Med-Cal).

The first point of agreement I have with the Editorial Board concerns improving overall public health. The authors argue that setting new restrictions will save many lives and make way for better public health. My research further explores this aspect by looking into an example/study the Editorial Board uses in their article. A study from the Institute of Medicine (2015) which concluded that with the age increase, by 2019 223,000 premature deaths should be prevented.

For those who were born between 2000 and 2019 this would add around 4.2 million years to their lives (para. 6). In order to add to this research, in a study done by Dr. Tim McAfee (2013) in the “21st Century Hazards of Smoking” it was concluded that a smoker will lose ten years of their lifespan on average compared to a non-smoker. This research points out the obvious advantage to the increase in age restrictions. The numbers are substantially large and considering that every life matters. These measures show how much the general public could benefit in terms of health and longevity of life.

The second point of agreement that I have with the Editorial Board concerns their argument for restricting access to tobacco products by changing the legal purchasing age to 21. The Editorial Board argues that the modification will reduce the amount of young people being able to gain access to tobacco products through the current legal age or through friends (including the increasingly popular e-cigarette).

According to recent studies done by Professor of Psychiatry Jay Giedd and MIT (2004) “the human brain does not reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s” (Brain Changes: 20s and beyond section, para. 1). As reported by Dr. Jennifer B. Dwyer (2009) this results in teens becoming increasingly likely to become addicted to substances such as nicotine (The Dynamic Effects of Nicotine on the Developing Brain, section 5.3.1, para. 5) as the Editorial Board as points out.

So already we know that at a young age people’s minds are still developing and are more susceptive to the effects of nicotine and with further research it is pointed out that most smokers start when they are still in adolescence. Almost all smokers start before the age of 26 and are already hooked, but before then, studies say that 90 percent have tried it before age 19 (Institute of Medicine, 2015). Clearly, by reducing the amount of people that can use tobacco products (by age restrictions) it will cut down on the amount of people becoming addicted to using tobacco because of nicotine.

With regards to public health and restricting the legal age there is a large amount of public support behind these changes, which is the third point of agreement I have with the Editorial Board’s article. It makes sense that the public would support laws like this. Many people regret ever starting smoking and most started before they were 21 (which would be the new legal age). Some people argue that these laws would take away basic rights because people age 18 are considered adults who are allowed to join the army and vote. I would compare this to the changes government made in regards to the alcohol age.

The Editorial Board brings statistics from the Department of Transportation into account here. After further research one can see that the 22,000 lives saved over the years from 1975 to 2002 (Calculating Lives, 2005) from the policy that changed the legal age to purchase alcohol, hail small in comparison to the study done by the Institute of Medicine (2015) and 223,000 lives prevented from premature tobacco deaths. Numbers like these show why the public support such legislation regardless of inflicting on the same rights people had before the legal alcohol age was changed.

After all there is a legal age for a reason and as times change so should polices to adapt to what society wants/needs. The CDC and AJPM took a recent survey of adults who were current smokers, former smokers, and non-smokers. The results came to be that about 75 percent embraced the idea of changing the legal age to 21. Obviously this shows us that many smokers regret ever starting, but were young and became addicted and they support the potential change hoping the youth can learn from their mistakes.

After first reading the Editorial Board’s argument for these aforementioned changes I was a bit skeptical of how the state could ever enforce them or that it would be very effective at all. In contrast to those gut feelings or doubts I agreed with all their major points. I think that in this situation the positives outweigh the negatives much like the change in the alcohol age saved many lives. Legislation like this, if adopted nationally, could save hundreds of thousands of lives over many years. This topic hit home for me because both of my parents started smoking when they were in the basic adolescent age group and are paying for it now.

They aren’t the only ones paying though; I am as well. To see your parents afflicted by disease from such an ignorant and non-sensical, but highly addictive, habit is heartbreaking at times. I witnessed the negative effects of tobacco and learned the hard way, but not everyone needs to in order to decide not to use these products.

Sometimes laws or ideas need to be revisited because times and ideals change; in this case, laws like these might take away a small bit of free will but it will be more helpful in the long run. I am in full support of the Editorial Board’s opinion on this matter and I would only hope this legislation gets passed in the state of California and nationwide in recent times. I would encourage anyone and everyone to support laws like these. Protection by restriction is sometimes the only option.

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Protection through restriction. (2022, Jun 21). Retrieved from

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