In Ellen Ailts’ column, “Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 could have unintended negative consequences,” she mentioned how policies of the past have precipitously dropped the teen smoking rate.
I find that inspiring, and that’s why I support new policies to continue lowering the smoking rate. The author glossed past a study by the Minnesota Department of Health and ClearWay Minnesota, which showed this policy would prevent an estimated 30,000 Minnesota youth from becoming smokers over the next 15 years. There is support for this possibility, as Chicago has seen a reduction in youth smoking rates since that city raised the age to 21 in 2016.
This policy isn’t about us. It’s about 13- and 14-year-olds and breaking the supply chain between them and the 18-year-olds they know. Most middle school-aged youth know someone who is 18 and legally able to purchase tobacco. Not many associate with 21-year-olds.
The policy isn’t questioning our decision-making abilities, as there are many things we are restricted from because of age (renting a car, purchasing alcohol, running for U.S. President). It’s about the development of our brains. It’s proven the earlier someone starts smoking, the harder it is to quit later in life because of the dependency created by nicotine.
As a medical school student here at the University of Minnesota, I am invested in the health of those around me. Raising the tobacco sales age to 21 is one more piece of the puzzle in helping to create a smoke-free generation. We have made great progress in cutting the smoking rate in this state through a mosaic of policies, and we should not doom another generation to addiction because we want to stop trying new things now.
I applaud the efforts by Minneapolis and other municipalities to prevent youth from starting a deadly addiction, and it’s time for Minnesota to follow suit.
This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Bruce Grégoire is a first year medical student at the University of Minnesota.