Dousing the flame

Jamilyn Hall, Opinions Editor

Kernel editors debate whether Kentucky General Assembly should pass House Bill 299, making 21 minimum age for tobacco purchases.

Public health is top priority

Many Kentuckians are addicted to tobacco, and a recent Kentucky bill would help combat this. So, why aren’t all Kentuckians on board? Why are we up in arms over banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than 21?

House Bill 299 may seem like a hoax — a ruse to keep young adults from expressing their freedom — but the bill is a blessing in disguise.  

According to Tobacco Free Kids, 17.9 percent of Kentucky high school students smoke. Only high school seniors, 18 years old or older, are old enough to buy tobacco products. In a state with 10 percent more adults who smoke than the national average, 26 percent versus 16 percent, something must be done.

How can we argue that young adults must wait three more years to purchase alcohol because their brains are not yet fully developed, but we can allow them to purchase tobacco?

It is easy to say that young adults who smoke will find a way to do so, even if the age is increased to 21. But people can change a lot in three years, and if a way exists to decrease the amount of Kentuckians who use tobacco products, this bill would be it.

Another important concern is comparing the quantities of tobacco and alcohol use. While many teenagers may find a way to consume alcohol, cigarettes can be just as destructive, if not more. 

Workers aren’t allowed to drink while at work, but they often are given smoke breaks. The amount of tobacco Kentuckians use is much more damaging to our health, yet we give young adults access to these products at a younger age.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “Every day, more than 3,500 kids try a cigarette for the first time, and about 1,000 other kids become daily smokers.”

No reason exists to keep Kentucky lawmakers from passing HB299. The motivation against it is to ensure that Kentuckians continue to start out young and become loyal customers of the tobacco industry.

According to a March 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, raising the tobacco sale age to 21 would have a substantial, positive impact on public health and save lives. With HB299, Kentuckians have the ability to change the current state of our public health — it is right under our noses.

Just ask yourself, would you make the same decisions that your once naive, 18-year-old self would make? 

Three years changes a lot, and the ability to buy cigarettes is a big responsibility – especially for someone who has to ask to use the bathroom in homeroom.

Jamilyn Hall is the opinions editor of the Kentucky Kernel.

Law will not stop smokers 

Using tobacco products is a bad habit. No one with the slightest knowledge of human health would argue otherwise. Cigarettes alone have been linked to lung cancer, heart disease and a slew of other disorders that our generation would do well to avoid. But this is America, and adults should be allowed to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies.

Yes, tobacco products can lead to severe health disorders if overused, but so can many legal products. There are no serious discussions on making a minimum drinking age for soda, despite the fact that it has been linked to Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. All the same can be said for fast food.

Some might argue that increasing the legal tobacco age to 21 will keep tobacco products out of the hands of minors, but this leads to an age-old dilemma – in a free market society, can the government really stop people from accessing a product if they want it badly enough? The answer is almost always no.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 90 percent of cigarette smokers tried smoking by the time they had reached 18, so minimum age requirements clearly don’t keep cigarettes out of the hands of minors who want to try them. Detractors might also argue that bumping the age up to 21 would be effective because teenagers wouldn’t know as many 21-year-olds, making access harder. Again, that’s wrong.

Just look at alcohol. The legal drinking age is 21, yet the CDC estimates that Americans ages 12 to 20 years old drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S., and about 65 percent of American teens have had at least one drink of alcohol by age 18, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug and Alcohol Use. One can never underestimate the craftiness of American teens when it comes to getting their hands on intoxicating substances.

Our society certainly has many consistency issues when it comes to age and how old is old enough to partake in certain activities. In America, we must wait until we are 21 to legally consume alcohol, and marijuana in states where it is legal, but 18 is deemed old enough to join the military and fight for one’s nation.

This might be a well-worn argument, but no one has ever given a reasonable rebuttal to it. It is not morally acceptable that 18 is old enough to sacrifice one’s life, but not old enough to have a beer. 

We don’t need smoking added to the mix of inconsistent age requirements. All adult-related decisions, including smoking, should be associated with the same age.

Cheyene Miller is the managing editor of the Kentucky Kernel.

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