There will be much debate about a California bill which would raise the age when an individual can purchase cigarettes to twenty-one. I remember well the discussion prior to 18-year-olds receiving the right to vote. The constant and most decisive argument was that ‘if a person can be drafted and forced to go to war at 18, they should be allowed to vote for those who are sending them into harm’s way.’ It made sense to me and others my age who were 18 when Vietnam escalated, and we could not vote.
A similar argument was presented in several states about the age alcoholic beverages could legally be consumed. This became a question solely for individual states. Before 1984 a large number of states allowed individuals under the age of 21 to drink alcohol for various reasons, and under certain restrictions. In 1984 the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Act was passed by Congress creating a universal age of 21. If states did not raise the age, they would lose federal highway funding.
We are all aware of the multiple dangers of using tobacco products. I believe tobacco sales should be banned; they produce nothing positive, only negative results are experienced by users. However, lobbies for the Tobacco Industry will insure that Congress never ‘does the right thing.’
That being said, I believe the law is a waste of time and energy. Although the age when an individual can legally purchase tobacco products is now 18, that does not prohibit smoking at ages 12 or 13.
Purchasing cigarettes is part of the problem, but not part of the solution. Someone will buy cigarettes for teenagers who insist on smoking or chewing tobacco. Denial of the facts that tobacco products are responsible for everything from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and many other maladies, will continue to make the tobacco companies wealthy.
California may or may not succeed in passing this law; I don’t believe it really matters. Education remains the answer; let our teenagers know that it is not ‘cool’ to smoke or chew.
New campaigns must attack the truth about tobacco. California’s legislature could better spend their time creating a multi-level campaign denouncing and detailing the danger of using these products.
Commentary by James Turnage