Raise Legal Smoking Age to 21, U.S. Expert Panel Says
Such a move would save thousands of lives, lower number of smokers, Institute of Medicine finds
By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, March 12, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 would save hundreds of thousands of lives and substantially reduce the number of smokers in the United States, a new report finds.
Such a change would result in 249,000 fewer premature deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, and 12 percent fewer smokers by 2100, according to the report released Thursday by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
"The public health benefits of raising the age to 21 are substantially greater than raising it to 19," said Richard Bonnie, chair of the IOM committee that wrote the report, and a professor of medicine and law at the University of Virginia.
The IOM is an independent panel of experts that advises the federal government on public health issues.
According to the report, increasing the minimum age to 21 would prevent or delay 15- to 17-year-olds from taking up the smoking habit. The report specifically looked at the benefits of raising the age to 19, 21 and 25, Bonnie said.
Bonnie explained that younger teens often get older teens to buy cigarettes for them -- and they may know a lot of friends who are 18 and 19. However, they are unlikely to have as many 21-year-old friends. That's why raising the age to 21 seems to have the most public health benefit, he said.
Raising the age to 25 has some additional value, but a smaller one because there is already a lot of social overlap among 21-year-olds and 25-year-olds, Bonnie said.
The committee found that there would be about 3 percent fewer smokers by 2100 if the age were raised to 19, and 16 percent fewer smokers if the age were increased to 25.
If someone is not using tobacco by age 26, it is highly unlikely they ever will, the panel added.
In addition, if the age were raised to 21 now, by 2100 there would be some 286,000 fewer preterm births, 438,000 fewer cases of low birth weight and about 4,000 fewer sudden infant death cases among mothers aged 15 to 49, according to the report.