Increasing the minimum age to purchase cigarettes to 21 would prevent teens from starting to smoke, and would ultimately save lives, according to a new report.
The minimum age to buy cigarettes in most parts of the country is 18, Newswise reports.
"The key point is that if people get through adolescence without smoking, it is highly unlikely they will ever start," co-author Micah Berman, Assistant Professor of Public Health and Law at Ohio State University said in a news release. "The flip side of that is if they do start smoking in adolescence, everything we have learned about teen brain development shows that it will be much harder for them to quit later."
Previous research suggests nicotine's effect on brain development leads teens to heavier daily tobacco use, a stronger addiction to nicotine and more difficulty quitting later in life, the report notes. By raising the minimum sales age to 21, legal purchasers are no longer in high school. Most people who supply cigarettes to teens are between 18 and 20, many of them still in high school.
The researchers say studies show that increasing the legal drinking age to 21 reduced alcohol use, daily drinking and binge drinking by more than one-third among high school seniors.
More than 50 municipalities in the United States have raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21, the researchers note. At least eight states have proposals being considered by their legislatures.
After Needham, Massachusetts became the first U.S. city to increase its tobacco sales age to 21, tobacco use among high school students dropped almost in half, the Ohio State researchers said.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) will release a report next week on raising the minimum tobacco sales age, the article notes. The IOM is an independent organization that provides advice to decision makers and the public.