Raising the smoking age to 21 could reduce tobacco use among next generation

March 12, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 

A report released today by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said that raising the smoking age to 21 could reduce smoking by as much as 12 percent in the next generation. In addition, smoking-related deaths could be cut by nearly 10 percent.

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in this country. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that 5.6 million youth alive today will lose their lives prematurely if we don’t do more to reduce current smoking rates.

Roughly 90 percent of daily smokers first tried a cigarette before age 19, a time when researchers say the brain is still developing in areas like decision-making and impulse control. That development continues until about age 25.

In California, a bill to raise the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 has been introduced in the state legislature. Senate Bill 151, introduced by Senator Ed Hernandez, would make California the first state in the country to raise the minimum smoking age as high as 21. Similar proposals have previously failed in New Jersey, Utah, Colorado and Maryland. The California Medical Association supports the legislation.

The IOM’s 335-page report, Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products, outlines the likely effects of setting the minimum age at 19, 21 and 25 years.

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