PASCIAK: Increasing the legal tobacco purchasing age in Virginia is the right call

Increasing the legal purchasing age of tobacco helps to restrict access to tobacco products and lower overall usage of tobacco

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Most adult smokers note that they had already tried a cigarette before the age of 18, indicating that the issue of underage tobacco usage needs to stopped even before children reach college. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia signed a bill into law that would raise the buying age of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old two weeks ago, becoming the seventh state to implement this new policy. The law was enacted in response to a rise in underage e-cigarette usage in the United States and is a step in the right direction towards further reducing underage tobacco usage. 

E-cigarette usage is becoming increasingly popular among the country’s youth, particularly among high school aged individuals. Restricting the sale of tobacco products to these individuals makes accessibility to the products much more difficult, thus discouraging teenagers from using tobacco products. This is important to make it more difficult for underage citizens to access these products in order to ensure that they do not develop an addiction in their early years. Nicotine usage is ubiquitous at many universities, which further pushes college-aged students to experiment with tobacco products during their time at university. This prevalence needs to be combated with legislation, which the Commonwealth has just done with the signing of this new bill.

Raising the legal age of tobacco purchases has, in many cases, proven to help reduce overall tobacco consumption. The City of Chicago, for example, raised their legal purchasing age of tobacco products to 21 years old in 2016. The city saw a dramatic decrease in cigarette and e-cigarette usage among 18-20 year olds, dropping from 15.2 percent in 2015 to 9.7 percent in 2016. Furthermore, Needham, Mass., the first locality to raise its smoking age to 21 in 2005, found that smoking rates among high schoolers declined by 47 percent four years after the law passed. Virginia, in raising its legal purchasing age, hopefully will follow in the footsteps of these other areas and will see a noticeable drop in the usage of tobacco products in the next few years. 

Although some may see the new bill as a way to further restrict the rights of young citizens, the bill should be recognized for fighting underage tobacco usage. This is a matter of public health, and it needs to be treated as such. The introduction of this bill should not be seen as a violation or restriction of rights for those citizens between 18-20 years old. It should, rather, be seen as an attempt to curb an addiction before it starts. The detrimental health effects of smoking are widely known, but the effects are often even worse for younger smokers. This attempt to further improve overall national health should not be seen as a restriction of rights but instead as an attempt to better the health of our country. Citizens from the ages of 18-20 are still granted all the rights and privileges that enable them to be functioning adult members of society — restricting young citizens’ access to tobacco products does not restrict any necessary right for them.

Most adult smokers note that they had already tried a cigarette before the age of 18, indicating that the issue of underage tobacco usage needs to stopped even before children reach college. However, restricting the accessibility to tobacco products is, at least, a step in the right direction, making it more and more difficult for underage citizens to find ways to purchase these products. This new bill works together with JUUL’s recent announcement on their attempts to fight underage consumption by restricting access to JUUL products on a national level. Both of these initiatives represent progress towards ending the culture of underage tobacco consumption that has become even more popular with the introduction of certain e-cigarette products.

The prevalence of tobacco products among underage citizens is an issue that needs to be addressed by all local governments. We need to work towards ending the increases in youth usage of these products. Therefore, any legislation that works to fight against underage tobacco usage should be celebrated. More states need to follow in the footsteps of Virginia and the six other states that have already implemented an elevated legal smoking age. With this change occurring on a national level, the country would be able to decrease underage e-cigarette and cigarette usage. 


Zack Pasciak is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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