Tobacco: New Study Says You Can Get Killed In War, But Not Buy Smokes

FDA tobacco study

It’s an oft-heard argument: Service men and women in the United States might be old enough to fight and die in a war in a foreign land for our country, but those 21 years of age and under can’t buy a beer or a shot in their hometown tavern. Now, according to the recommendations of a new study, a new push is under way to put the same restrictions on smokers.

A new study indicates that raising the legal age of purchasing tobacco products to 21 would cut the smoking rate dramatically and save hundreds of thousands of lives, all by the end of the century. The study is a product of a 2009 law that gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco in the United States. The law did not give the FDA the power to raise the legal purchasing age for tobacco above 18 on its own, but it did require the FDA to study the outcomes if the legal age for tobacco was eventually raised.

According to the FDA study, if the legal age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products was raised to 21 across the country, smoking “prevalence” would fall by 12 percent across the board. As a result, 249,000 premature deaths among the generation born between 2000 and 2019 would be avoided, including 45,000 less deaths from lung cancer.

Of the states across the nation, most of them authorize the legal sale of tobacco products to those 18 and older. Four states have stricter guidelines, only allowing tobacco products to be sold to those 19 and older, and it may surprise some to know that 58 locales in seven different states already require those who purchase tobacco products to be 21 or older.

According to the FDA, every day 3,200 people smoke their first cigarette and 700 kids under the age of 18 become daily smokers. Additionally, 88 percent of adult smokers smoked their first cigarette before they turned 18.

Thomas Glynn, a consulting professor at the Stanford Prevention Research Center at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, reviewed the FDA’s study for the Institute of Medicine. Glynn commented on the not-so-old adage that our soldiers might be old enough to get killed in a war, but not old enough to partake in alcohol, and now, possibly, in tobacco.

“I know that critics of the report’s conclusions will argue that, if we can send our 18 year-old men and women into combat to protect the U.S., we can hardly then turn around and say, ‘But you can’t buy cigarettes.’ The public health response to that argument should be that our brave troops do not, thankfully, suffer the 50% casualty rate that cigarettes cause.”

What do you think? Should the sale of tobacco be restricted to those 21 and older? Perhaps on the flip side of that, should enlistment in the armed forces be restricted only to those 21 and older as well? If 18 year-olds aren’t wise enough to make responsible decisions about cigarettes and alcohol, are they really old enough to brandish a weapon and take another human life?

Sound off your opinion in the comments below.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]