Most people are familiar with the drinking age, especially for college students. You’re acutely aware it’s illegal to drink an alcoholic beverage if you’re under the age of 21. But Florida also has a smoking age, and it’s currently 18. It’s time to change that and raise the smoking age to 21 as well.
First is the issue of consistency. It makes sense to have the same age for drinking and smoking. While many would argue we should lower the drinking age to 18, that is unlikely to happen in the near future, so for the time being, we’re stuck with a drinking age of 21. Thus, our laws should reflect it and be consistent. Comparable substances like tobacco should also have a minimum age of 21.
There is even more of a reason for a higher smoking age from a medical view, especially when you compare smoking’s negative health benefits to those of drinking. While both alcohol and cigarettes are addictive substances, cigarettes are harder to use in moderation, as even ‘moderate’ amounts can be highly damaging to your body.
A 2010 review found that ‘light smokers,’ which the authors defined as “smoking less than 1 pack per day, less than 15 cigerattes per day and smoking 1 to 39 cigarettes per week,” had the same risk for cardiovascular disease as daily smoking, It said low-levels of tobacco exposure had 70 percent of the overall effects of heavy smoking.
In contrast, the Mayo Clinic explains while one shouldn’t take up drinking in order to gain health benefits, there has been evidence of potential health benefits of ‘moderate drinking,’ which is defined as one drink a day for women and men older than 65, and two drinks a day for men younger than 65, such as reduced risk of dying from heart disease, reduced risk of diabetes and reduced risk of ischemic stroke.
Tobacco should be regulated as the health risk it is and setting the smoking age at 21 would be part of that. While this would not help smokers over the age of 21, it could stop people from taking up the habit in the first place. The Center of Disease Control estimates 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers start by age 18. Setting a higher smoking age would set up additional obstacles for younger people trying to get their hands on tobacco, making it more likely they won’t even bother the hassle of buying it. If a higher smoking age will make it less likely that people will ever start such a toxic and unhealthy habit, I’m all for it.
As long as the U.S. drinking age is 21, it’s fair to treat alcohol and smoking as legally equivalent. Not only would this consistency help consumers and business, but it would reflect the evidence that cigarettes are at least as risky and harmful as alcohol, if not more.
Jason Zappulla is a UF history senior. His column appears on Tuesdays.
Read the other side of this week’s “Dueling Opinions” here.