Is this really necessary?
New York‘s city council voted Wednesday to raise the purchase age for cigarettes, electronic vapour supplies and other tobacco products from 18 to 21. Another bill set the minimum price for a pack of cigarettes at $10.50, and steps up law enforcement on illegal tobacco sales. While they’re not the first community to do so, they are the largest. Mayor Bloomberg, who salivates at every chance to impose city government on private decisions, is expected to sign the bills. They will go into effect 180 days after they are signed.
While everyone from Bloomberg down are patting themselves on the back for taking a tough stand to keep kids from trying that first cigarette, actual smokers are scratching their heads in awe of their ignorance. Likewise, baby boomers who remember the debates of the 60′s over the voting age and drinking age are shaking their heads.
No matter what their “studies” tell them, there is one fact that negates their stance: no one ever buys their first cigarette. Nope. They get it from a smoker, be it a friend, a parent or a stranger. Buying the first pack usually doesn’t happen until a new smoker has been at it for awhile and decides to finally buy their own instead of bumming them (or sneaking them from family adults). This bill isn’t going to stop those first cigarettes from happening. It is going to make buying cigarettes a bit tougher for new, underage smokers, but if the “success” of the 21-yr-drinking age is anything to go by… it won’t be impossible. It will just create another black market.
Then there is the whole concept that our society is moving towards, that people under 21 do not have the ability to make rational decisions. Back in the 60′s, the national voting age was 21. As the nation saw more and more body bags returning from Viet Nam, the debate began about all those young men being sent to die by a government they had no say in electing. Eventually, the national voting age was lowered to 18. Following on the heels of that, most states lowered their drinking age to 18 also. The tag line for that argument went something along the lines of “If he’s old enough to be handed a gun, he should be old enough to have a beer.”
There is a concept of parenting that maintains that to teach responsibility to our children, we have to hold them responsible for their actions. They will not magically become responsible with age, unless they experience the consequences of their actions. If we always shield them from those consequences, they don’t make the connection, they don’t get the cause-and-effect. If the toy they break today is magically replaced overnight, they learn nothing.
The core question to all of these age-limit laws is ‘when do we believe people will think beyond their immediate satisfaction to the long-term consequences?’ Society seems to have different answers to that question, depending on the topic and the region of the country. The age of consent for sexual relations differs state to state, as does the age to marry. The age to indulge in tobacco, obviously, is coming into question across the country. The age to drink was forced to 21 in all the states by the threat of terminating federal highway funds to states that refused to raise it.
The only “age” standards that are not being debated are the national voting age of 18, and the minimum enlistment age for military service (18 for the most part, although 17 may be allowed in individual cases). Considering the perception that the 18-to-21 demographic is easily swayed, politicians are not about to give up on those potential votes. Let’s take that as the starting point here.
At 18 you are considered responsible enough to vote. That implies that you are responsible enough to familiarize yourself with the issues, the candidates and their positions, and then to cast a considered vote. Yes? Well, in theory at least. If you are that responsible, then it follows that you can be trusted as a member of the military, to pay attention to your training, to follow the orders of your superiors, to act with honor, bravery, and compassion. If you can be trusted with the lives of your fellow soldiers, well, you should certainly be able to be trusted to relax with a beer or two. Of course you will have the common sense to hand someone else your keys. And finally, if you can have a beer, then you should be able to indulge in a good cigar. Just like Patton. After all, tobacco is not illegal. Potentially damaging, yes… but so is butter.
If you’re flapping your hands in the air over where that trail led us, let’s start at the other end. Because the ill effects of smoking are not immediate, persons under the age of 21 are not deemed mature enough to deny themselves the pleasure of having a cigarette. To protect them from their own immaturity, the government sets the age for tobacco at 21, to match the age for drinking. Under-21′s are not considered responsible enough to drink without endangering themselves or others. If this is true, then it should follow that persons under 21 are not responsible enough to serve in the military. They could not be trusted with military secrets, cannot be trusted to act with honor, should not be trusted with the lives of their fellow soldiers or civilians, and most certainly should not come home in body bags. Finally, if persons under 21 cannot be trusted to serve, they cannot be trusted to cast informed votes and should be disenfranchised. Oh, and just for icing on the cake, if you can’t vote, you can’t get married. Marriage is a civil contract, and you are obviously too young at 19 or 20 to grasp the complexities of a civil contract, so you cannot marry.
As a nation, this is a conversation and a debate we should be having. It is absolutely absurd that a person we trust to not shoot at anything that moves in the desert will be denied a Marlboro, as long as they are legal.
[That's a whole other issue: if you politicians are serious about the evils of demon tobacco, suck up the lost campaign contributions and the scads of lost tax revenues and make it illegal. Period.]
Can you imagine how we look to our overseas allies? “Absurd” doesn’t even come close.