A hike in the smoking age from 18 to 21 years
passed the initial legislative hurdles in Utah and Colorado on Thursday.
The proposal, which treats tobacco like alcohol, aims to reduce the prevalence of smoking among young adults and is based on new research that found that many smokers begin the habit as teenagers.
A paper published last year in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine said that 9 out of 10 daily smokers in the U.S. have their first cigarette by 18 years of age, and that about 90 percent of cigarettes purchased for minors are obtained by people between 18 and 20 years old, the Associated Press reported
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"What I'm hoping to do is make it harder for kids to obtain cigarettes," Rep. Cheri Gerou, a Republican who sponsored the measure, told the AP.
"The ages from 18 to 21 is a period of huge uptake and even if you're able to delay (teenagers) from starting smoking rather than preventing it altogether, there would be a significant health benefit," Robert West of the University College London added. "You're essentially allowing the rather scrambled adolescent brain to settle down and avoid smoking during that period before they turn 21, after which they may decide they absolutely do not want to smoke anyways."
While the vast majority of states sell tobacco to 18-year-olds, four states, including Utah, already requires tobacco purchasers to be 19 years of age. The others are Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey.
According to Peter Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids, similar legislation is being considered in Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey, while last year Maryland lawmakers considered and rejected a tobacco age hike proposal.
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In November 2013, New York City banned the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 years of age
, while Hawaii County, HI, passed similar legislation last December.
Utah already has the nation's lowest smoking rate, about 12 percent in 2011 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorado isn't far behind, at about 18 percent in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Presently there are an estimated 42.1 million Americans who smoke, representing 18.1 percent of all adults (aged 18 years or older) in the United States. It is more common among men than it is woman.
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