A new study found that raising the minimum legal age for purchasing cigarettes to 25-, 21-, or even 19-years-old may be able to decrease the amount of people who continue smoking later in life.
The authors note that 90% of smokers report using their first cigarette before turning 19, and nearly 100% smoke for the first time before they are 26. This is likely because the parts of the brain responsible for decision making, impulse control, sensation seeking, and responding to peer pressure are still developing through young adulthood, and teenage brains are particularly susceptible to the effects of nicotine.
By pushing back the age at which teenagers and young adults have access to cigarettes, the estimated rate of young people who smoke dramatically decreases. Overall, the authors found that raising the minimum legal age could decrease the initial rates of smoking anywhere from 5% to 30% in people under 25.
The effect is most prominent when the minimum purchasing age is raised to 21. While 21-years-olds associate regularly with those over 25, they are generally not in the same social circles as those who are under 18. (Duh.) Therefore, younger people, whose brains are most susceptible to factors that can lead to them to start smoking, are less likely to encounter cigarettes at all.
Although 249,000 premature deaths in people born between 2000 and 2019 could be avoided by raising the minimum purchasing age to 21, don’t expect the rules to change everywhere soon. The federal government is not allowed to raise the minimum purchasing age over 18, so states and localities would have to be the ones responsible for the changes. Some cities, like New York, have already enacted laws making illegal for someone under 21 to purchase cigarettes.