Legislators in Colorado and Utah are pushing to raise the age to legally purchase tobacco, from 18 to 21 in Colorado and from 19 to 21 in Utah. Measures were approved by lawmakers in each state on Thursday, February 20, 2014, paving the way for the legislation to possibly become law. The movement to increase the legal tobacco age to 21 was inspired, in part, by research showing that a sizable percentage of smokers take up the habit during the teenage years.
"By raising the age limit, it puts them in a situation where they're not going to pick it up until a much later age," said Utah resident Marla Brannum, a supporter of the legislation.
Similar sentiments were expressed in neighboring Colorado.
"What I'm hoping to do is make it harder for kids to obtain cigarettes," said Colorado Rep. Cheri Gerou, a Republican who sponsored the measure.
Neither Colorado nor Utah has a noteworthy problem with teenage smoking. In fact, the rate of teenage smoking in these states is actually lower than the national average. But lawmakers and many concerned parents seem to support the proactive approach. With the present tobacco purchasing age set at 18 in most states, parents worry that the threshold is low enough that kids 16, 17, etc, can more easily obtain cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. By raising the age to 21, they argue, retailers will start to treat tobacco like alcohol and will enforce the law more strongly than before.
These proposals have not been passed into law yet and are bound to be met with opposition. The tobacco industry is all but certain to lobby against the bills and some may even challenge it on Constitutional grounds. An 18 year old is treated as a legal adult in other ways, so why shouldn’t he/she be allowed to purchase tobacco?
Still, parents in general are likely to lineup in support of the plan. If teenagers can delay smoking for a few more years, it will help remove tobacco problems from families and from high schools, many of which have a large number of 18 year- olds in the senior class ranks. And any delay, even if for only a few years, could prevent young adults from taking up the habit in later life.
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