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Raise the age for tobacco

Del. Darryl Barnes' op-ed, "Raise age for Md. tobacco sales to 21" (Nov. 15), is right on the mark. I would only add that, in crafting a "Tobacco 21" law (or revising current Maryland law), three aspects of the legislation would be paramount in maximizing its public support. First, implementation of the new age limit in three one-year intervals, with rise to 19 occurring 12 months after the bill's effective date, and rise to 20 and then 21 one and two years after that. Second, no penalty, not even minor fine, for tobacco possession by 18-to-20-year-olds because someone in that age cohort who happens to be smoking a cigarette or is in possession of a pack is not sufficient reason for involvement by law enforcement. Third (and this was necessary to gain sufficient support for Tobacco 21 in California), exemption for 18-to-20-year-olds who show with proper identification that they are active duty military.

As for including e-cigarettes in legislation raising the "tobacco age" to 21, there is a public health argument for and against inclusion of e-cigarettes, with the against argument being that they help some tobacco-addicted young people to quit tobacco, and provide nicotine to nicotine-seeking youth who would otherwise seek out more pernicious tobacco. Because of this argument (whatever its ultimate depth or merit), to include e-cigarettes would jeopardize public support for passage of the bill. If legislators deem it needful, they can address e-cigarettes subsequent to passage of Tobacco 21, and with the debate at that time focused only and therefore cleanly on e-cigarettes, not genuine tobacco products such as cigarettes.

Frederick N. Mattis, Annapolis

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