Northwest Missourian Opinion

The legal age to buy tobacco products should be 21. The new law, dubbed “Tobacco 21”, is more than just government hampering youth expression, it is a common-sense regulation meant to curb a health crisis that has taken hold in America.

Alcohol has been labeled a substance that is dangerous for teens, and tobacco, with its numerous addictive issues and adverse health effects, should be right up there with it.

The FDA raised the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 as part of a major spending package that also includes money for a border wall and gun violence research.

One of the main goals this regulation hopes to achieve is a reduction in the use of tobacco in schools and those under 18. Up until “Tobacco 21,” most seniors at some point in high school were able to legally buy tobacco.  

Tobacco use is already banned in Missouri public schools, but it is much more difficult to ban a substance that some students can legally purchase at every Casey’s in a 20-mile radius, which if you’re in Missouri is at least six Casey’s.

Personally, as a person that has had to step around cigarette butts and chew cans on my way to my car in high school, clearly the ban wasn’t effective. The quarter of the students who were of age to spit and smoke to their heart’s content would act as suppliers for younger students who “needed” that tobacco fix but couldn’t buy it themselves.

It creates a cycle of addiction that can start in people even as young as middle schoolers. This problem has only worsened with the introduction of electronic cigarettes and vapes.

The use of e-cigarettes in middle school and high school rose from 3.6 million to 5.4 million from 2018-2019, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates 1 in every 4 high schoolers regularly used e-cigarettes in 2019.

People addicted to tobacco normally start the addiction before the age of 18, according to the CDC. Around 90% of cigarette smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 18.

Basic biology also shows that teens have a higher chance of becoming addicted to nicotine in tobacco products than adults.

People below the age of 21 are more vulnerable to developing issues with tobacco, and it makes logical sense to make it more difficult for teens to acquire them. 

Tobacco taxes and mostly cigarette taxes are designed to act as a deterrent for those willing to buy tobacco products. Particularly, teens and those in college who do not have that much disposable income are supposed to be deterred by increasing prices.

That would work if the taxes in Missouri weren’t ranked 51st in the United States, according to Truth Initiative. Yes, 51st is correct because Washington, D.C., is included in this. That means that the deterrent, and state revenue generator, is particularly weak in Missouri.

The myriad of issues that accompany tobacco and the chances of someone developing a lifelong addiction is more than enough incentive to raise the age and possibly protect young people. It won’t stop youth tobacco use and nicotine addiction, but it may lessen its impact and that alone is worth it.


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