Raise the smoking age to 21

To cut down on teen smoking, raise the minimum age to 21.

The editorial "Don't lower this tax" (Jan. 2) defended Maryland's relatively high cigarette tax due to its deterrent effect on smoking, particularly among youth. A further step would be to prohibit the sale of tobacco to persons under age 21. By making it more inconvenient for young persons to acquire (or consistently acquire) tobacco, and interposing three more years of maturity before buying cigarettes is as easy as buying milk, it is likely that tens of thousands in rising cohorts of young Marylanders will be spared the effects of tobacco addiction. In Maryland, the 2014 legislative effort for "21 tobacco" (HB 278) did not ultimately become law.

There are two keys to passage of a statewide "21" bill which were lacking in Maryland's HB 278 effort — and one or both of which were also lacking in recent unsuccessful "21" bills of other state legislatures. The first key is implementation over a three-year period; so, if a "21" bill is passed in the 2015 Maryland General Assembly and is signed into law in June 2015 and takes effect in Sept. 2015, the rise to age 19 would occur in Sept. 2016, then to age 20 in Sept. 2017 and to 21 in Sept. 2018.

The other exigent provision is that there be no penalty (such as modest fine) for possession of tobacco, or even attempt to purchase it, by persons age 18 and over. This is because, first, there is not sufficient cause for potential police interaction with an 18-20 year-old who just happens to be smoking, or has a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. Another reason is because opponents of a prospective "21" bill would unleash this discomfiting scenario: "Then under this bill, a 20-year-old Marine corporal passing through Maryland would be subject to police interrogation and a fine if he or she happened to be smoking a cigarette!" Further, it would be exceedingly rare that any "attempt to purchase penalty" would actually be imposed (and thereby conceivably have some deterrent effect), because when an under-age person tries to buy tobacco and fails, then he or she quickly departs the store.

Maryland lawmakers, building on last year's effort, have a chance of really making a difference here, and doing it fairly with gradual, three-year implementation of "21 tobacco," and with no potential police involvement for "under-age" 18-20 year olds.

Frederick N. Mattis, Annapolis

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