Anti-tobacco activists on a roll. Because of them, everyone writing about the subject feels compelled to mention the fact that tobacco contributes to early death.
But wining the publicity wars hasn’t been enough. Now they’re trying to raise the legal age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21, and with Gov. Chris Christie’s signature, New Jersey just became the fourth state to adopt this change, after Hawaii, California, and New York.
The rates of cigarette smoking or other tobacco use among adults was once as high as 45 percent. That’s down to 16.8 percent, according to estimates.
Much of this has been due to government propaganda to change cultural norms. The surgeon general’s warning has been accompanied by many public-awareness campaigns. Laws now ban indoor smoking in most public places. Targeting children in advertising has been banned, and cigarettes are subjected to high levels of taxation. Scores of millions of dollars from the 1990s settlement between tobacco companies and 46 state attorneys general has funded these efforts.
It’s even been reported by the annual Monitoring the Future study that American high schoolers are now more likely to smoke illegal marijuana than legal cigarettes.
Eighteen year-olds are legal adults
Advocates of the increased smoking age tout reductions in tobacco use among teenagers and young adults. The effect is dubious because of the broader decline over decades. Same thing in regard to raising the drinking age to 21. But critics claim this federal highway funding-mandate instead forced young drinkers out of the bars and into unmonitored, and more dangerous, binge drinking in dormitories and frat houses.
Then there’s the principle of the matter: When you are 18 to 21 years old, you are legally an adult, not a child.
Those who have reached the age of majority can sign contracts, join the military, rent or purchase their own homes, and vote in our nation’s elections. As full and equal members of society, they are no longer under the supervision or custody of their parents. That’s why it is the height of hypocrisy to say that a 20-year-old American can volunteer to get shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan, but when they get home they aren’t competent to decide to have a beer and a cigarette.
Ironically, states may raise the age of majority if they wish. Under the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, however, states may not raise the voting age higher than 18. Upping the age of majority would, of course, mean that people in that age range are not competent adults, are not free to make their own decisions, and that they must remain under the care of parents or guardians.
Unless states are willing to take that step, adult American citizens should not be denied equal protection of the laws – including the right to vote, drink or smoke – when in this temporary legal grey zone now created by four of our nation’s premier nanny-states.
(Photo illustration of U.S. soldier smoking by Senior Airman Chad Strohmeyer used with permission.)