Which state just raised the legal smoking age to 21?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a law Friday raising the state’s minimum age to buy tobacco products and electronic smoking devices to 21 years old, up from 19.
The measure gives “young people more time to develop a maturity and better understanding of how dangerous smoking can be and that it is better to not start smoking in the first place,” Christie, whose mother died from the effects of tobacco use, said in a statement. He cited the strain on the health care system caused by tobacco-related illnesses as justification for the move.
In 2013, New York City raised its legal smoking age to 21. Hawaii followed suit in 2015, and California did the same a year later — the only two states where the smoking age is 21.
“The brains of teens are not fully developed,” says Dr. Tony Hampton, a family medicine physician with Advocate Health Care, impacting their ability to make rational decisions. “That combined with the lack of life experience which also impacts their judgment, it makes sense to delay access to addictive drugs or substances which could negatively impact the rest of their lives.”
Dr. Hampton notes some research has found nicotine to be as addictive as heroin, cocaine or amphetamines. “If I would not allow my [own] young adults to use these addictive drugs,” he says, “I can’t justify allowing access to a more addictive drug – tobacco – at a young age.”
The University of Rochester Medical Center summarizes how to understand the teenage brain: “Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part…That’s why when teens experience overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”
Raising the minimum age to 21 nationwide would lead to almost 250,000 fewer premature deaths and 45,000 fewer lung cancer deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, according to a 2015 study by the National Institute of Medicine.
The New Jersey Law, which goes into effect November 1, institutes fines against anyone who sells, gives or offers tobacco products to someone younger than 21.
About the Author
Adam Mesirow, health enews managing editor, is media relations director of Advocate Aurora Health. Securing high-profile media placements for more than a decade, he loves to tell a good story. Adam earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan. He lives in Chicago and enjoys playing sports, reading TIME magazine and a little nonsense now and then.