According to Institute of Medicine’s report titled, Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products, “Among adults who become daily smokers, approximately 90 percent report first use of cigarettes before reaching 19 years of age and almost 100 percent report first use before age 26.” This is one of the reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a new policy statement on October 26, 2015 urging policymakers to raise the minimum smoking age/cigarette purchases to 21.
The National Youth Tobacco Survey revealed that 1 in 4 high school students and 1 in 13 middle school students are tobacco users, which is troubling to say the least. Teenagers’ brains are still developing and smoking can interfere with that development, not to mention it is an impressionable time of life when becoming addicted to cigarettes can create an unhealthy habit for life. The underdeveloped decision-making process and impulse controls and the increased susceptibility to peer pressure make teens much more impressionable and unable to make healthy choices for themselves. Plus, older teens tend to purchase cigarettes for younger teens, so raising the age to 21 can help minimize that from happening since 21-year olds are more likely to be in different social groups than those of teenagers.
In a study released by the Institute of Medicine, it was estimated that raising the minimum smoking age would lead to almost 250,000 less premature deaths overall per year and 50,000 less deaths from lung cancer per year among people born between 2000 and 2019. It showed that the greatest benefits would actually come from raising the age to 25, at which point an estimated decline of teenage smokers would be 16%, while rates were estimated to decline by 12% if the smoking age were raised to 21.
The statement not only includes cigarettes, but also the regulation of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems since research has shown that when adolescents experiment with e-cigarettes, they are more likely to become cigarette smokers. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, there was no decline in overall tobacco use by students between 2011 and 2014 even though there was a 6.6% decrease of cigarette use. That’s because e-cigarettes and hookahs offset the decrease.
Unfortunately, because of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was established in 2009, the FDA is prohibited from establishing a nationwide minimum age of legal access (or an MLA for tobacco products) above the age of 18. Several local jurisdictions such as New York City and about 90 cities have already raised the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21, and hopefully many more will follow.
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