California has outdone itself by raising the legal smoking age in the state from 18 to 21. On the face of things, we could see this as a victory against Big Tobacco. After all, they did lobby hard against this new law, which still has to be signed by Governor Jerry Brown for it to go into effect. But things aren’t that simple, and rarely are they ever. This law would also raise the legal smoking age of vaping, or the legal vaping age if we can call it that. This gives us a lot more to think about, because some say this change will actually lead to minors smoking more, not less.
First, the move to change the legal smoking age of smoking is a big one. In fact, only Hawaii has a law against smoking above the age of 21. Other cities have done it, but not states. Certainly not huge states like California is either. That means this is pretty big, right? It does seem like a big win for those trying to remove the dangers of smoking as a whole, and especially for young people. With the powerful lobby that Big Tobacco has, it is even more impressive. But there are some other angles here that can tarnish this big win.
One would be what we could call the libertarian aspect of it. If you are an adult when you turn 18, then why can’t you make your own choices about your health? It’s more or less the same argument that a lot of people make about the drinking age being 21 in most places. If you are able to vote at 18 and you can get drafted into the army at 18, why can’t you smoke or drink? The simple answer would be the at smoking is bad for you. But if we legislated bans on everything that is bad for you, the entire fast food industry would crumble. That’s a nanny state that most Americans don’t seem to want, so why is the legal smoking age exempt?
Legal Smoking Age Effects Aren’t Clear
Okay, so you can say that smoking is different and raising the legal smoking age is another story. Cigarette smoking clearly leads to many terrible diseases and illnesses and this is widely accepted. Although having a Big Mac every day also leads to bad health effects, it generally isn’t considered as toxic as cigarettes.
Maybe it should be, but that is another issue for another day. The question is if pushing the legal smoking age up is a good thing, despite the nanny state qualities of this legislation.
The answer isn’t so simple. More than that, the effects of this law aren’t so clear cut either.
I think everyone can get behind the idea that we should try to eliminate teen smoking. Minors are more easily hooked and then it is incredibly hard to stop, as we all know from personal experience or otherwise. But raising the vaping age along with it may cancel out all the good it could do. We already know that the idea of teen vaping leading to smoking has been shown to be a myth.
We also know that the majority of smokers actually start before they turn 18. That means you are affecting less potential smokers than you think. Worse that that, you also deny these 18 year olds, who have already been smoking for a couple years, the chance to make the switch to ecigs. All that does is cement their cigarette smoke habit further. In fact, studies have shown that raising the vaping age actually leads to more smoking! That seems to be the opposite of the intent here.
California seems to be a taking a big step forward in trying to curb teen smoking, but in actuality that may not be the case. As happens quite often, the idealism of what should happen is outweighing the pragmatism of what actually does happen. The biggest problem with the bill is that it simply throws vaping in when raising the legal smoking age. This is a move that could come back and haunt Californians and we hope that someone will come to their senses before it does too much damage.