Almost all adult smokers begin smoking as youth or young adults. This is well-known within public health circles. Studies also indicate that the younger you are when you start smoking, the lower your chance will be of ever successfully quitting.
These facts are leveraged by the tobacco industry, which aggressively targets youth in their marketing, hoping to recruit young, lifelong customers who are more likely to stay addicted and therefore profitable.
For those reasons, a recently published study written by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention professionals should create some buzz. It found that three out of every four adults — including 70 percent of current smokers — support raising the legal age to purchase all tobacco products to 21.
The deadly effects of tobacco use are so ubiquitously understood that I needn’t belabor the point. But while more than 5,100 Minnesotans die every year from tobacco-related illness, tobacco companies seek new, young users to replace lost customers. If the smokers who began smoking when they were young were prevented from starting, it stands to reason that we might see a vast reduction in human life lost to tobacco and a drop in the related economic and social costs.
A purchase age increase might be a highly productive policy move that would decrease the number of first-time users, especially when paired with existing tobacco prevention efforts, like high tobacco prices.
It is vital that we curb youth access to tobacco if we want to build healthier communities over time. The state of Hawaii and certain cities across America have increased the age to purchase to 21, and they are seeing benefits. Minnesota, as a national health leader, is poised to realize these same benefits. We have made impressive strides in tobacco control and prevention, and if public health solutions remain, one worth considering is raising the minimum age from 18 to 21.