Should Ohio raise the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21?

Q: Should Ohio raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21?

By Sarah Sidlow

How much difference can three years make? According to local proponents of the “Tobacco 21” initiative, enough to make noise about.

The push to raise the minimum tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 has been a long one. Some states, like Oregon, Hawaii, California and Maine, have adopted outright statewide policies to raise the minimum age above the federally accepted 18 years. Other states leave it up to individual municipalities. In Ohio, nine cities have made the call to raise the age, not just for buying cigarettes, but for smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, too. Those cities include Columbus, Cleveland, Dublin and Upper Arlington.

The movement started in Massachusetts in 2005, where Needham became the first city in the United States to extend the age limit to 21. Since then, Needham has reported a 50 percent drop in youth tobacco use. Those findings have been enough for more than 100 cities in the United States to adopt a higher minimum age for purchasing tobacco.

Why? Because research shows that most lifetime tobacco users start smoking in adolescence. If you don’t have tobacco until you’re 21, studies show you’re less likely to use tobacco altogether. Moreover, you’re less likely to pass that tobacco on to your underage friends or family.

There’s also a less glamorous reason: it would make it easier on those purveyors who sell both tobacco and alcohol, which also has a 21-year minimum buying age, to crack down on compliance issues.

And while the Buckeye State excels at many things, critics say its above-national-average rates of high school and adult smoking aren’t something to be proud of. According to, the state endures an annual $5.64 billion in health care costs directly caused by smoking. Ohio has also been accused of spending only 11.8 percent of the CDC recommended funding on tobacco prevention.

But opponents say adults who are old enough to drive cars, elect presidents and fight in wars should be old enough to buy tobacco, if that’s what they want to do. And they have reports of their own: like this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which cites a three-year decrease in teen smoking—down to just 9 percent. The trend is moving in the right direction organically, they argue, and making something less accessible only makes teenagers want it more.

The essence of the argument against raising the minimum age has everything to do with civil liberties. Decisions about one’s health, critics argue, should be left up to the individual. By age 18, young adults are aware of the risks of smoking. Inviting the government to make decisions about what you do to your body isn’t all that appealing.

Plus, there are ways to regulate tobacco that don’t involve restricting liberties for an individual. Workplaces and restaurants have had a lot of luck enforcing smoking bans. Opponents of municipal action argue that these are additional ways to curb tobacco use and reduce second-hand smoke without infringing on an individual’s right to smoke elsewhere.

Opinions abound in the dispute over the appropriate tobacco-buying age, but there’s one item that no one takes issue with: tobacco is bad for you.

But would raising the minimum purchasing age from 18 to 21 really make a difference?

Smoker’s hack

Revisiting the age of consent

By Ben Tomkins

It is about time the American people disconnected the smoking age from irritating and tired philosophical babble and started dealing with reality. As of today, five states (New Jersey, California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Maine) and six large cities (Kansas City, New York City, Chicago, San Antonio, Boston, and Ohio’s own Cleveland), representing over a quarter of the people of the United States of America, have raised the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21, and it’s high time Ohio followed suit.

The reason many people haven’t heard about this is because the Constitution didn’t turn to dust under its plates in the National Archives over this almighty insult to the personal liberty and freedom of our nation’s teenagers. The most common – and most annoying – echo from the reptilian brain of its opponents comes in the following form:

“Our soldiers are old enough to go to war, but they’re not old enough to smoke?”

Where to begin is the most difficult choice at that candy store of nonsense. Going from brief to verbose, the shortest answer is “yes.” Smoking is not a Constitutional right. It is a law. As such, it is easily within the power of our legislative bodies to change it without modifying our national charter. This might come as a surprise, but nowhere in the Constitution are we granted the right of grand personal liberty. Go read that glorious piece of sheepskin from nose to tail, and you’ll find that, while it does a great job of protecting rights that are vital to preserving the “blessings of liberty,” it does not give you the right to do whatever you want whenever you want. If the Framers wanted anarchy they wouldn’t have bothered with a quill, and I suspect you’d have a much harder time securing a pack of smokes – not to speak of the blessings therein – in those circumstances.

Moving into the middle third of that knock-off cigar of a statement, it is worth remembering that if today’s 18- and 21-year-olds feel that affronted, they are welcome to run for the House, Senate and presidency when they are 25, 30, and 35 years old, respectively. If the opponents of the higher smoking age had started with “Our soldiers are old enough to go to war, but they’re not old enough to declare it,” they might be taken a little more seriously. It is well known and accepted by both scientists and the public that the areas of our brain that lead to good judgment aren’t fully formed until we are in our mid- to late-20s. Somehow…somehow…generation upon generation of American parents haven’t needed to see the definitive scientific study on the matter to figure that out.

The vast majority of new military recruits are between the ages of 18 and 21, and those young recruits are subject to restrictions on their personal liberties and freedoms far in excess of their counterparts off the parade grounds. The military has to physically break them like horses (care to stop with the nonsense about Snowflake indoctrination on college campuses?) to get them to do what they want. True, the smoking rate in the military is much higher than in civilian life, but the military has been working to change this since 1975.

Smoking culture in the armed services began in earnest in WWI, when tobacco companies identified a perfect market for their product. Young men were being separated from their parents, plopped down in do-nothing, stagnant trenches and told to await poisoned gas or a fatal shell. The inclusion of cigarettes in their rations was seen as a kind of a blessing for their service, but by 1975, the attitude of the higher-ups had changed dramatically. Today, the US military conducts sustained anti-smoking initiatives to combat the smoking culture that exists primarily because the tobacco industry hooked both its soldiers and its institutions in the late teens during the 20th Century.

It is estimated that tobacco use will cost the Department of Defense something like $19 billion over the next ten years in lost productivity, heart disease, and slowed healing. After a week in the hospital after a bad car accident, I figured out that the reason every doctor and nurse was continually asking me if I smoked had nothing to do with my lungs, and everything to do with nicotine’s retardation of the body’s ability to heal itself. If a soldier is wounded in combat, the last thing you want in their system – besides the shrapnel, of course – is a bunch of nicotine. They won’t heal, and in the field that could be fatal. It would be wrong for our military to say and do nothing while its soldiers inadvertently put themselves in that position.

Like another major issue for America’s youth, nobody is saying you can never smoke. Raising the smoking age is about every future member of our society in a better place to make a choice. If you get to 21 and decide it’s for you, great. Smoke away. That’s much easier than trying to quit when you’re 21.

Butt out

You’re not my Mommy. Neither is the state.

by Ron Kozar

Whether I smoke is none of your business. That’s true whether I’m 18, or 98, or anything in between. The only people who should get a say in whether I buy cigarettes are me and the guy who sells them.

Yeah, yeah, I know smoking is bad for my health. But if I’m the one whose health we’re talking about, then I’m the one who should decide whether to sacrifice some of that health for the sake of whatever momentary pleasure smoking provides.

Don’t give me a speech about lung cancer. I know smoking causes lung cancer. Every nagging public service announcement since God knows when has told me so. But this debate is not about health. It’s about whether there should be law, about whether the state should use force to stop me from doing something. And the social contract that makes civilized living possible says that you don’t get to use force against me if what I’m doing doesn’t hurt anyone else.

When I mention not hurting anyone else, every fascist buttinski who argues to the contrary will inevitably mention secondhand smoke. But the dragon of secondhand smoke has already been slain. For years now, smokers have been exiled to a forlorn spot fifty feet from the service entrance of the building, to protect all you precious Felix Ungers from the horrors that await you if you ever catch a breath of smoke.

That leaves the argument about healthcare costs. The hundred billion in public money spent on care for lung cancer patients, we are told, gives you the right to play God over my lungs. But what about the seven hundred zillion that taxpayers have to cough up for the care and feeding of illegitimate children? If paying the former entitles you to regulate smoking, does paying the latter entitle you to regulate sex? I say we should let both the smoker and the single parent sleep in the beds that they make for themselves, with no government money to subsidize and encourage the lousy decisions that either of them makes. But my side lost that argument. So, does the red tape you want to wrap around my lungs get wrapped around the body parts involved in procreation, too?  There’s not a thing that you Health Police can say in support of your ban on smoking by 18-year-olds that the Sex Police didn’t say about fornication, back when they bossed people around the way you now want to. The ones who agitate to regulate smoking are usually the same people who say there’s a right of privacy that bars the state from regulating what people do with their own bodies. When the courts invented that right, they said it prohibits the state from stopping people from buying contraceptives. How is buying cigarettes any different? If the government can’t regulate one private activity that involves no one’s body but my own, how can it regulate another? Is what I do with my own body protected from busybodies like you, or isn’t it?

But the slippery slopes don’t end there. If the fact that it’s bad for you is reason enough to prohibit it, then might the Health Police also prohibit foods that they suppose are bad for you? Don’t laugh. Ordinances banning soft drinks, saturated fats, and the like, or taxing them to high heaven, are already on the books in cities from New York to Berkeley, proving that the slope really is that slippery. And the people enacting those ordinances are the same ones agitating for single-payer healthcare. Once they get their way, and the government starts paying the bills for everyone’s healthcare, there will be no limit to what Big Brother can regulate. When the day comes that every broken bone or clogged artery is Big Brother’s problem, then Big Brother will have every right to tell you not to do anything that might break a bone or clog an artery. When the king pays the piper, the king gets to call the tune.

When you’re 18, you’re an adult. That’s supposed to mean you get to decide things for yourself, to be responsible for yourself, to bear the consequences yourself. You can vote. You can join the army and get killed in battle. You can sire children, get an abortion, and get a sex-change operation. You can drive a car. You can buy a gun. You can get married. You can get a job. You can buy a home. And you can do all these things without getting anyone’s permission first, not even your mother’s.

An 18-year-old who is free to do all those things should also be free to buy a pack of cigarettes. Try persuading him not to if you wish. But if you don’t persuade him, let him do it anyway, and go mind your own business. See how that works?

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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