Focus on Pediatrics-Bill aims to change legal smoking age to 21

Proponents hope to keep teens smoke-free

If a person reaches the age of 21 without smoking, the likelihood that he or she will start is remote. In fact, if someone does not begin addictive smoking by the age of 22, the odds are more than 10 to one that he or she won't start. Yet, not one state has moved the legal age for smoking to 21. Those supporting the Tobacco to 21 initiative hope Ohio will do so by the year 2001.

Rob Crane, MD, assistant professor of family medicine at The Ohio State University in Columbus, has been working hard to get the bill passed since its introduction in 1997. The 35 professional, registered lobbyists in Ohio representing the tobacco industry make it an uphill battle.

It seems like an obvious piece of the teen smoking prevention puzzle, Crane says. "By raising the age to 21, we rely on what we saw happen as a social experiment with alcohol," he explains. After the voting age was lowered to 18, many states thought it appropriate to lower the drinking age as well. In a few years, all 18 states that had lowered the drinking age saw dramatic upswings in traffic crashes and fatalities caused by drinking drivers under the age of 21.

Tobacco to 21 would raise the legal smoking age to 21 and would require retailers to purchase tobacco licenses from their local health departments, who would use the license revenue to make compliance checks on stores.

While weekend or first-time smokers may ask friends who are over 21 to buy cigarettes for them, those who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day usually buy their own at stores that are not compliant with the law. "Having someone buy you a pack of cigarettes a day is not that easy. That is why we think Tobacco to 21 will work better for cigarettes than alcohol because most alcohol purchases are made for intermittent use," says Crane.

For more information about Tobacco to 21, contact:

Rob Crane, MD, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, The Ohio State University Department of Family Medicine, 5600 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43017. Telephone: (614) 766-2211. Fax: (614) 766-6644. E-mail: cran.17@osu.edu.