Smokers start young, then they die young.
To help our children avoid tobacco and to keep them alive longer, Essex County and every other county in the state should raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Several states and 13 New York counties, along with New York City and Albany, have raised the age. But no counties in northern New York have raised the age, although Essex is now considering it.
Everything recommends the change and nothing weighs against it, unless you are among the tobacco-sellers who want to keep making money from a product that harms human health.
Smokers start as teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 9 out of 10 smokers started on cigarettes by age 18.
Tobacco companies make every effort to hook young customers. Recently, this effort has taken a turn with the growing popularity, especially among young people, of e-cigarettes, or vaping.
The e-cigarette companies push the notion that vaping helps teens quit cigarettes or keeps them from starting by offering a similar but less damaging alternative. Widespread vaping is relatively new, and the research on it is mixed. But we do not buy the argument that acquiring a habit that mimics smoking makes you less likely to smoke.
Vaping itself is not harmless. In most cases, it involves inhaling nicotine, an extremely addictive stimulant and the key drug in tobacco. The label of “gateway drug” has been hung on marijuana. But the pioneering study on gateway drugs was conducted in 1975 by Denise Kandel, who found that nicotine was the true gateway for teenagers, and their use of nicotine often led to use of harder drugs.
Raising the age will work to discourage teen smoking, just as it did with drinking. Of course, teens still drink, and alcohol wreaks havoc on many young lives. But after 1984, when all states had adopted a minimum drinking age of 21, teen drinking rates fell and so did the number of car crashes.
Fewer young smokers means fewer smokers overall, which means a healthier and happier population. Despite the progress that has been made against tobacco use, it is still responsible for an ocean of sickness and grief. At the current rate of tobacco use, 1 out of every 13 Americans alive now will die from a smoking-related illness.
It would be bad enough if we just died earlier than we should because of smoking — if one day we just keeled over on the sidewalk. But smoking eats away at you from the inside out.
If the arguments about protecting human health don’t persuade you — perhaps you think people should be able to destroy their own health if they choose — then think about the financial cost of smoking. This applies locally as well as nationally — we all bear the burden in higher insurance premiums and higher taxes to cover the health care costs of treating smokers. Locally, many of our house fires originate with cigarettes, another danger and expense created by smoking.
But the essential point is that using cigarettes as intended by the manufacturer damages your health and, frequently, kills you. We cannot think of any other product that is so malignant. The least we can do is keep it away from our kids.