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Editorial: Make 21 age for tobacco purchases

Editorial: Make 21 age for tobacco purchases

We need to make access to smoking more difficult for kids
Editorial: Make 21 age for tobacco purchases
Photographer: Shutterstock

The pieces are starting to fall into place.

Saratoga County is considering joining a growing number of other counties in the state — including two of those with whom it shares a border (Schenectady and Albany counties) — to raise the minimum purchase age for tobacco products to 21.

It’s a common-sense health initiative that’s becoming more acceptable by the minute, and Saratoga County should make itself the next 21-and-over county on the New York map.

While they more counties and municipalities around the state are passing similar legislation, state lawmakers and the governor should see the writing on the wall and pass a 21-year purchase age for the entire state.

The reason this is becoming more popular, both in New York counties and nationwide, is because of a growing body of knowledge about the impacts of smoking at an early age.

In this country, 10,600 children become smokers each year, and 90 percent of smokers start smoking before the age of 18, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 280,000 smokers currently under the age of 18 will eventually die from a smoking-related illness.

Studies, including one conducted in 2015 by the Institute of Medicine National Academy of Sciences, have shown clear evidence that the later one is exposed to tobacco products, the less likely one is to take up the habit later in life.

As raising the drinking age to 21 did for underage drinking, raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 will help reduce exposure to students in high school and younger.

While it might be common for a high school junior or senior to hang out with an 18-year-old, not many high school kids hang out with older college students and young adults. That means they’re less likely to have someone of legal age easily accessible to buy or give them cigarettes.

As more communities realize the value of raising the tobacco purchase age to 21, all the historic arguments used to keep it at 18 are falling by the wayside.

The biggest argument has been that if you’re old enough to serve in the military at age 18, you should be allowed to smoke. But even the military is backing away from that stance.

Smoking has been banned on all military workplaces for 20 years and is prohibited during basic training.  And military officials have realized that smoking is associated with reduced physical fitness, risk of injury and slower healing of wounds — making smoking especially pernicious for soldiers.

The other arguments — if you’re old enough to vote or old enough to get married, you’re old enough to smoke — also are also becoming less convincing as the public begins to understand the impact on individual health and the health care system as a whole.

There has been legislation proposed at the state level to raise the age, but it hasn’t gotten through. Perhaps Saratoga County joining the growing list of counties and cities in the state will change lawmakers’ minds. 

It can’t happen soon enough.

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