Colorado, Utah move to hike smoking age to 21 (Update 2)

February 21, 2014 by Kristen Wyatt
A high school student, who preferred not to be identified, smokes a cigarette in a de facto smoking area just off the property of Lewis-Palmer High School, in Monument, Colo., Thursday Feb. 20, 2014. A proposal to raise the tobacco age to 21 in Colorado is up for its first review in the state Legislature. The bipartisan bill would make Colorado the first with a statewide 21-to-smoke law. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Two Western states with some of America's lowest smoking rates are considering cracking down even more by raising the tobacco age to 21.

Utah and Colorado lawmakers both voted favorably on proposals Thursday to treat tobacco like alcohol and take it away from 18- to 20-year-olds, a move inspired by new research on how many smokers start the habit as teenagers.

Both proposals face several more votes. But they're the furthest any states have gone to curb access to cigarettes by teens. The director of tobacco studies at University College London didn't know of any other countries considering a tobacco age threshold of 21, but he said raising the tobacco age from 16 to 18 in the United Kingdom proved to be "a public health winner."

Altria Group Inc., owner of the biggest U.S. cigarette company, Philip Morris USA, did not immediately provide comment.

A paper published last year in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine said that 9 out of 10 daily smokers in the U.S. have their first cigarette by 18 years of age, and that about 90 percent of cigarettes purchased for minors are obtained by people between 18 and 20 years old.

The Washington-based Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids advocates the higher smoking age and argues that it could make a serious dent in tobacco deaths down the road.

Armando Peruga, program manager of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative, said he supported the U.S. proposal, provided that it would be strictly enforced and that it was accompanied by other tobacco control measures, such as high taxes and smoke-free regulations.

"It needs to be part of a comprehensive policy to counter the tobacco industry's influence on young people," Peruga said.

Four states, including Utah, already require tobacco purchasers to be 19. The others are Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey.

The 21-for-tobacco bills are also pending in state legislatures in Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Maryland lawmakers considered and rejected the idea this year. New York City last year raised the tobacco age to 21, as did Hawaii County, Hawaii.

Utah already has the nation's lowest smoking rate, about 12 percent in 2011 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorado isn't far behind, at about 18 percent in 2011, according to the CDC.

Despite the low rates, health advocates in both states testified that a higher tobacco age could depress the rates even further.

When the legal age of smoking was raised from 16 to 18 in the U.K., there was a significant drop in the number of people who started smoking, University College London's Robert West said.

"The ages from 18 to 21 is a period of huge uptake and even if you're able to delay (teenagers) from starting smoking rather than preventing it altogether, there would be a significant health benefit. You're essentially allowing the rather scrambled adolescent brain to settle down and avoid smoking during that period before they turn 21, after which they may decide they absolutely do not want to smoke anyways," he said.

Explore further: Glance: US smoking over 50 years

Related Stories

Glance: US smoking over 50 years

February 5, 2014
Some key events and adult smoking rates in the fight over tobacco during the last 50 years in the U.S.:

New York City raises legal age for cigarettes to 21

November 19, 2013
A New York City law banning cigarette sales to people under 21 was signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday, the latest move in the Big Apple's war on smoking.

Role of E-cigarettes in eliminating tobacco use discussed

December 19, 2013
(HealthDay)—The public health issues relating to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and their role in eliminating tobacco use are discussed in a perspective piece published online Dec. 18 in the New England Journal of ...

US study finds children's use of e-cigarettes is up (Update)

September 5, 2013
(AP)—Children—like adults—are increasingly trying electronic cigarettes, according to the first large U.S. study to gauge use by teenage students.

Flavored small cigars are popular with kids, study finds

October 22, 2013
Small cigars flavored to taste like candy or fruit are popular among U.S. teens, according to the first government study to gauge their use.

Fewer US kids buying tobacco products, report says

August 27, 2013
(HealthDay News) —Government efforts to keep minors away from tobacco appear to be working, with a new U.S. report finding sales of cigarettes and other products at near-record lows.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.