Lawmakers across the country are jumping on the bandwagon to raise the minimum age for smokers, but the odds are that these won't do much to keep kids from lighting up.
Last week, Utah legislators agreed to put a bill on ballots next year that would make 21 the minimum age for buying tobacco products, a raise from its current limit of 19 years, which is already the highest age in the U.S. That plan comes fresh off the passage of New York City's recent rule to raise its minimum age to 21, and similar age-raise plans are soon hitting legislators in Hawaii, New Jersey, Colorado, and Texas.
The underlying reason behind this growing trend is admirable — smoking is bad, duh — but raising the smoking age to 21 would actually make less of an impact than officials think. That's because smoking rates are already coming down, and smokers start way before age 21 anyway.
Smoking is already trending down
Prior to this trend of raising the age to 21, the smoking rate was already decreasing these past few years, as the CDC graph (pdf) to the right shows. Last year, 18 percent of Americans smoked, down from about 21 percent in 2009, and almost 25 percent in 1997. This decline isn't due to age raises, but to other smoking laws, including cigarette taxes and smoke-free workplace rules. Similarly, heavy smokers are smoking less, as the CDC reports that those smoking 30 or more cigarettes a day declined significantly from 2005 to 2010. In New York City (where nearly all indoor smoking is banned), the smoking rate sits at 15 percent, down from its 21 percent in 2005. Because of a decreased public visibility and higher cigarette prices, smoking is on the way out. But age limits, which are only now being put in place, have little to do with it.