Recognizing that teens do in fact make terrible decisions, Hawaii has become the first state to raise the smoking age to 21.
The hope is that raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes by three years will save thousands of lives in Hawaii, much like what the national campaign against smoking over the past half-century has achieved. A surgeon general’s report in 1964 outlined the health hazards of inhaling thousands of chemicals – that Lucky Strikes aren’t a viable antidote to an irritated throat – which has seen the smoking rate drop from 43 per cent in that year to just 18 per cent today.
A further look at the numbers reveals just how significant that three-year window is: according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 90 per cent of America’s daily smokers began before age 19.
Many also start well before their 18th birthday, albeit illegally and through access that a higher minimum age can’t affect anyway.
“In Hawaii, about one in four students in high school try their first cigarette each year, and one in three who get hooked will die prematurely,” said Lola Irvin, administrator with the chronic disease prevention and health promotion division of the Hawaii Department of Health.
Opinions about the decision are very polarized, with members of the military especially opposed to 21+ legislation.
“[Smoking] is a way for us to come down after the work day. It’s not like a regular work day. It’s a lot more stressful, especially for people who are in combat jobs,” says 21-year-old Army X-ray technician Taylor Dwyer. There is also the argument that if an 18-year-old is mature enough to fight for their country in war, they’d should be permitted the liberty to make a decision about smoking.
Stacked up against the minimum age to purchase alcohol, meanwhile, and the new smoking law makes a lot of sense. Logically, there’s no reason young people should have access to cigarettes earlier than alcohol. Not only is smoking more detrimental to your health and the health of those around you, it carries a much greater threat of addiction.
The new law will roll out over a three-month soft enforcement, which will see warnings instead of fines handed out. After that, young people caught smoking will be fined $10 for the first offense and $50 or community service for any further offenses.