California’s tobacco measure will have negative results


Photo credit: Helen Suh

From 2011-2012 in California, adults aged 18-24formed the lowest demographic of cigarette smokers except for adults aged 65 and over. They also had lower rates of smoking than the national average, which have both been steadily dropping recently.

So why is our California legislature trying to restrict independent adults ages 18-20 from purchasing tobacco that many use responsibly and have waited to be able to use?

A measure passed by the state assembly and currently awaiting a signature from Governor Jerry Brown will raise the legal age to 21 to purchase tobacco products – products which include smokable, smokeless and vaporized tobacco products.

The governor’s signature would pass this measure into California law and make California the second state with a minimum tobacco age of 21.

News of this measure has many adults angry and surprised about new restrictions, and for good reason.

Measures like these take rights away from independent young adults learning to think and live responsibly. Legislature already prohibits 18, 19 and 20-year-olds from purchasing or consuming alcohol when they can legally enlist in the army, live independently, consent to sex, sign contracts, work or drive. 18-year-olds in California can even receive examination for use of medical marijuana, a federally outlawed drug.

Since doctors have realized the harmful health effects of long-term tobacco use, younger generations have used tobacco significantly less than any time before, which is a good thing for the nation’s health.

Nobody wants tobacco’s negative effects to harm growing adults, but responsible use and low smoking rates shouldn’t scare people or merit legal restriction, especially considering legal moves could simply complicate the issue.

The issue with this restriction boils down to two points for those angry about it: political uneasiness and indecision about cigarettes and tobacco, and political resistance to let 18-year-olds enjoy the perks of adulthood.

American government today holds a very different relationship with the tobacco industry versus when the sale of tobacco helped form the first political establishments for the United States.

However, Washington has attacked cigarette companies and made tobacco harder to purchase.

This struggle culminates in the government today pushing tobacco further out of reach and seemingly wanting to ban tobacco altogether.

“If we want to ban cigarettes, let’s just ban them,” said San Diego Senator Joel Andersen. Right now, governments are mulling on that decision while further taxing tobacco sales and companies.

Another conflict evident from this measure is legal distrust of young adults to have rights to “mature” activities or substances. Many laws prevent adults from enjoying certain age-dependent rights while believing they are of age to work, join and possibly die in the army, and other responsibilities.

Many people want to reform these laws regarding subjects like purchasing or consuming alcohol or gambling, which require a minimum age of 21 to participate.

Other countries with laws that allow 18-year-olds to drink or gamble often have lower negative or harmful trends for young adults than the U.S.

Look at American drinking culture: allowing only 21-year-olds to consume alcohol doesn’t stop young people from drinking, and many believe that’s why young people drink heavily and harm themselves.

This unruly aging contributes to the American Pie culture, and certainly hasn’t, or won’t, do much for communities like Chico State with high populations of underage drinking. If politicians believe that raising this age will stop underage use of tobacco, they are mistaken.

The last thing this country needs is growing curiosity for young people to experiment with tobacco as a “cool” taboo product. Politicians may believe they’re helping, but kids will still get their hands on illicit substances as they always have. It’s not crazy to believe that this law will simply complicate this issue with negative results.

Sean Daly

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or @sdaly3orion on Twitter.