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Tobacco to 21: Momentum Grows in the Buckeye State

Most smokers light up for the first time before age 19. (nerlssa's ring/Flickr)
Most smokers light up for the first time before age 19. (nerlssa's ring/Flickr)
December 16, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - More than 100 U.S. cities have raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21, and momentum is growing in Ohio as well.

The Cleveland City Council recently voted to increase the age, joining Bexley, Grandview Heights, New Albany and Upper Arlington.

Dr. Robert Crane, a professor of family medicine at Ohio State University, said kids' brains don't reach full development until the early 20s. That lack of maturity is one reason he said 90 percent of smokers light up for the first time before age 19.

"Very much like alcohol, handguns, casino gambling, concealed carry that are already set at 21, it makes sense that the riskiest behavior of all - that is, smoking - move up to age 21," he said.

Crane pointed to an Institute of Medicine study that found that adopting 21 as the sales age for tobacco would save more than 4 million years of life among people born from 2000 to 2019. In June, Hawaii became the first state to raise the tobacco purchase age to 21.

With 21 as the minimum age to purchase tobacco, said Micah Berman, an assistant public health professor at Ohio State, younger kids are less likely to be in the same social circles as those who can legally buy it. He said the earlier a person starts smoking, the harder it is to quit.

"Increasing the tobacco sales age to 21 is a really effective way to keep people who are in high school - and actually middle school - from starting to smoke, and that's the real danger area," he said. "Once people get out of high school, it's much, much less likely that they're ever going to start to smoke."

Crane, who leads the national "Tobacco to 21" effort, said there is broad support for raising the age, even among those who are current smokers.

"We have the data, the science behind it now," he said. "And most importantly, there's 75 percent approval rating across the country in large surveys. And even better, it doesn't cost the taxpayer anything."

More information is online at tobacco21.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH