Authorities and proponents of anti-smoking campaigns have added a new weapon in their armory in their efforts to curb smoking even further, as the findings of a recently published study that was conducted by the Institute of Medicine with the sponsorship of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) show that simply raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 or 25 years old would significantly reduce both their use and the incidence of tobacco-related illnesses in the United States.
The study argues that the parts of the human brain responsible for impulse control, decision making and peer susceptibility and conformity do not fully develop before the age of 25. As a result, adolescent brains are much more vulnerable to succumb to nicotine use and addiction. To further illustrate this point researchers point to the finding that 90% of daily smokers who participated in the study had tried their first cigarette before the age of 19, while only 10 % had tried tobacco products by the age of 26. The conclusion derived from these data is that if someone has not smoked a cigarette by 25 years old, they are unlikely to do so ever in their lives.
The FDA hopes that state and local authorities will take advantage of these findings and decide to pass laws to increase the legal age requirement for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products, since are not the responsibility of the FDA and cannot be done on a nationwide basis. The current legal age level in most states is 18 years and this was part of the measures taken over the years in order to curb smoking. Such measures and others have indeed been effective since the current 18% of smokers in the US population is markedly down from the 42% at which it stood back in 1964.
Four US states, namely Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah have already increased the minimum age to buy cigarettes by a year to 19 years old. Moreover, New York City and some cities in Massachusetts have increased it even further to 21 years old.
Besides further increasing the overall smoking rates, it is believed that raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products would also drastically limit the incidence of many tobacco-related illnesses. For example, researchers of this particular study estimate that if the legal age was raised to 21, there would be 249,000 fewer premature deaths for people born between 2000 and 2019, 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost.