Point/ Counterpoint: Legal purchasing age changed

Sam Malone

{{tncms-inline content=”<p>Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Sunday that will raise the legal smoking age in Illinois from 18 to 21. This is the second time the Illinois House of Representatives has passed legislation to raise the smoking age, but its first attempt was vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner in August. After Pritzker signs the law, it will take effect July 1, according to an April 6 Chicago Tribune article. This law will raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 statewide.</p>” id=”028cf800-fbaa-4938-ac03-9537da0d63d0″ style-type=”bio” title=”Framing the issue” type=”relcontent”}}

Raise the legal purchasing age to 21 

Sam Malone | Editor-in-Chief

Prior to age 25, your brain is still developing and is more readily seeking risky situations in an effort to identify potential risks and rewards, according to an October 2011, NPR interview with neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt. Not only are you more likely to smoke a cigarette, but you are more likely to become addicted to nicotine, effectively removing years from your life before you’ve fully developed neurologically.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the lawmakers who worked to pass this bill are absolutely correct in doing so. There is a reason this is the second time lawmakers in Illinois have tried to raise the legal age of purchasing tobacco products.

It is no longer a question of whether the brain is still developing at age 18 or not — science has told us it is. What makes this a positive decision for Illinois residents under the age of 18 is that parts of the brain are still developing.

At age 18, the brain is highly interested in seeking uncertain situations as a result of an underdeveloped and overactive reward system, according to Aamodt. She also said the prefrontal cortex, which helps to inhibit impulses and organize behavior, suffers from being underdeveloped at this time as well.

Given this is the case, it is reasonable to infer despite being considered a legal adult, 18-year-olds are not yet prepared to make decisions on products like nicotine. While signing this bill may not entirely stop those under 21 from smoking, it will provide increased discouragement on engaging in the activity, which could be more effective than some people think.

The Rational Choice Theory in classical criminology suggests the decision-making process is personal and actions are based on a series of thoughts which help the individual measure the potential risks and rewards of engaging in a certain act. The central thought of the theory is that people’s choices can be predicted and controlled by the fear of punishment, according to children.gov’s literature review of the Roots of Youth Violence. This bill enacts a punishment where there previously was none, adding at least some psychological deterrent.

A misconception of the bill suggests those already dependent on nicotine could be fined for now possessing the substance.

While this could be a reasonable upset, it is untrue. When Pritzker signs the bill and it goes in effect July 1, it will do away with penalties for underage possession, according to an April 6 Chicago Tribune Article. The bill will instead focus on businesses engaging in selling tobacco products to underage consumers.

Further, there is already proof this law can deter those under age 21 from smoking. In 2016 the legal purchasing of cigarettes and e-cigarettes in Chicago was raised to 21 years old. At that time, Chicago saw a 36% decline in use of those products among those between ages 18 and 20, according to a 2017 Chicago Department of Public Health survey.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable cancers, and nicotine, the highly addictive substance found in e-cigarettes, has been found to adversely affect the heart, reproductive system, lungs and kidneys in addition to other organs, being consistently demonstrated to have carcinogenic potential, according to the U.S. Natural Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. A product with such detrimental effects should not be legally purchasable by someone whose neurological development is not yet complete, especially when the incomplete development includes their decision-making abilities.

Illinois is not the first state to raise the legal purchasing age of these products to 21, nor should it be the last.

 Keep the purchasing age 18

Haley Galvin | Perspective Editor

While the legal purchasing age of tobacco will be increased, this will not stop the approximate 3.6 million middle and high school students who currently smoke cigarettes, according to the Office of Adolescent Health website.

In theory, raising the purchasing age of tobacco could be a good idea; however, this will only affect those who actually follow the law. This is not to say people are trying to break laws, but imagine a person who started smoking at age 18 last year. At this point, they are only 19 and could be addicted to smoking. They now have two choices: to quit smoking cold turkey, as they can no longer buy tobacco products legally, or find an alternative, illegal way to smoke.

Quitting cold turkey is not always an option for people, and smokers are more prone to continue smoking. Withdrawal symptoms include having cravings for nicotine, feeling down or sad, having trouble sleeping, feeling irritable‚ on edge or grouchy, having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating, feeling restless and jumpy, having a slower heart rate or feeling more hungry or gaining weight, according to the smokefree website. This long list of symptoms makes quitting a lot harder, so smoker may choose to continue smoking, rather than quitting with the law change.

At age 18, people legally become adults. They are allowed to buy lottery tickets, join the military and vote. If people are legally given these privileges, they are old enough to decide if they should smoke or not. Raising the legal smoking age is pointless and gives the impression that a person is not adult enough to make their own choice.

This law will only cause more people to get tobacco products in more illegal ways.

There is also no part of the legislation that states any punishment for those who are under 21 who will already have tobacco products once the law is in effect. If you are under 21 and you own any tobacco products, even after the law is in effect, you are still allowed legally to smoke it, which seems rather pointless.

Someone who is 21 can buy you cigarettes and, if you are between 18 and 20, there is no law prohibiting you from smoking them, meaning there really is nothing stopping a person who is 18-20 from smoking, just from buying the product themselves.

Nearly 90% of adult smokers began smoking before age 18, according to the Office of Adolescent Health website.

While some lobby to change the law due to the brain development at the age of 18, many medical professionals have argued otherwise. In 1963, the American Cancer Society suggests the MLA or minimum age of legal access to be 18, and in 1990 the The US Department of Health and Human Services suggest age 19, the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

These are both rather credible organizations that suggest similar ages, and the U.S. has chosen to follow by making the legal smoking age 18.

Many also argue the percentage of people who smoke will decrease if they do not smoke until they are 21, according to an April 6 Chicago Tribune article. However, changing a law will not cause people to not smoke until they are 21, as the statistics above show most people, who are adult smokers begin smoking before they are even adults.

Raising the legal age will be of no help to the amount of people who smoke, if a person wants to smoke tobacco before they are 18 or 21, they will find a way. Likewise, if the law changes and a person who already smokes is not 21 yet, they will still find a way to smoke.