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Old enough to vote, not old enough to smoke

Debra Saunders on

WASHINGTON -- I started smoking in high school and quit in my early 20s. I wish I never smoked, but I did. I thought it was cool until I knew it was stupid. That's when I quit.

Laws that restricted the sale of cigarettes to those 18 or older didn't stop me. Because 18-year-olds can buy for younger teens, anti-tobacco advocates supported raising the legal age of purchase to 21 to make it harder for 16-year-olds to get their hands on tobacco and e-cigarettes.

That's what Congress and President Donald Trump did as the year ended. With little debate while the country was focused on impeachment, they raised the legal age to buy cigarettes and vaping products to 21 by tucking the provision into the $738 billion Defense Spending Act.

Was there robust debate over Washington treating adults who are old enough to vote and old enough to fight in the U.S. military as children who can't make adult decisions?

(Given support on both sides of the aisles for the federal drinking age of 21, along with the 21-year age for the ownership of firearms in some states, the horse is out of the barn.)

Was there any hesitation about Washington abrogating states' rights by imposing a 21-year-old smoking age preferred by 19 states, including California, on the majority of states that have passed no such laws?

 

Hardly. "Stakeholders," which included tobacco and vaping interests, supported the old-enough-to-vote-but-not-old-enough-to-smoke provision as a sop to stave off attempts to ban flavored vaping products and menthol cigarettes.

Clearly, industry leaders believe that getting rid of flavors would be worse for their business model than a 21-year-old rule for buyers.

Only cranks such as me, who believe in adult rights for adult voters, even think to protest.

Wisconsin radio talk-show host Vicki McKenna, 51, counts herself among those who have issues with two ages of adulthood -- 18 and 21 -- but, as one of the millions of former smokers who kicked the habit when she started vaping, she is willing to accept the higher smoking age as the lesser of two evils.

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Copyright 2019 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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