Study: Raising age to buy tobacco would bring ‘significant’ benefits

Increasing age to 21 would reduce number of smokers by 12 percent

The current age to buy tobacco in the United States is at least 18, but a new study by the Institute of Medicine shows raising the age limit would have many benefits and significantly reduce the number of teenagers who begin smoking.

The study looked at the idea of raising the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 19, 21 and 25. It found that if you had to be 21 or 25 there would be a significant reduction in the number of 15 to 17-year-olds who begin smoking.

One health educator said this study is right on the money, but not everyone agrees.

The study reports more than 40 million Americans are smokers, but it found that the number of smokers would decrease by 3 percent if the minimum age were 19, with a 12 percent decrease if set to 21 and a 16 percent decrease if set to 25.

“I was very excited to see that there might be another tool to add to our toolbox. We’re always looking for evidence-based strategies to help us prevent youth tobacco use and certainly this does look like a promising strategy,” said Judi Zabel, health educator with La Crosse County.

Zabel said right now in La Crosse County 1 in 7 kids will purchase tobacco illegally. She said raising the age to purchase to 21 would make it more difficult for those kids to do so.

“It would be much more difficult for them to pass for age 21 when they’re attempting to purchase, and they won’t have access to 21-year-old friends as they do now with many of their classmates and friends (being) 18-19 years old,” Zabel said.

Allen Kantowski, manager of Briar Patch, a tobacco shop in downtown La Crosse isn’t convinced increasing the legal age is the solution.

“I think it would offer more reason to rebel: ‘Well it must be really bad so let’s do it.’ Unfortunately, teenagers have been doing that since the dawn of days,” Kantowski said.

Kantowski doesn’t think his business wouldn’t be affected if a change were made because his customers range in age from 18-80.

Although Zabel and Kantowski don’t agree on an age, they do agree on one thing.

“A better solution would be start educating kids at a younger age as to the effects of cigarettes and the addictive nature of cigarettes,” Kantowski said.

“This is one more tool that will get us on that path towards a tobacco-free generation and that excites me,” Zabel said.

Currently 18 is the age to purchase tobacco in 46 states. The other four states require you to be 19. There are some cities in the U.S. where the age is already at 21.

Congress is the only body that can increase the age requirement nationwide.

A 2014 report from the U.S. surgeon general said smoking causes more then 400,000 deaths each year and reduces the life expectancy of a smoker by 10 years.