Expert perspective: California to raise legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21

May 13, 2016

According to a recent article in Yahoo news, California Governor Jerry Brown approved raising the legal age to buy tobacco for smoking, dipping, chewing and vaping from 18 to 21.

California is hoping that increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco will lower the addiction rate of nicotine. According to Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry and member of the Masonic Cancer Center, who focuses on tobacco addictions and cancer prevention, young people are more susceptible to addictions because their brains are still developing.

“The primary reason for increasing the age to 21 is because the brain is continuing to develop well into the late 20s,” Hatsukami said. “While the brain is developing, it is more susceptible to the effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction than the mature adult brain.”

Those who smoke usually started at a young age. According to Hatsukami, about 90 percent of adult daily smokers began smoking before 19 years of age. This California law could help prevent people from smoking at a younger age, and as a result, prevent them from developing an addiction to nicotine. “Research shows the earlier the onset of smoking, the greater the difficulty in quitting,” Hatsukami explained.

According to the article, the Institute of Medicine reported that increasing the smoking age to 21 would immediately deter 15 percent of people 18 to 20 years of age from taking up a lasting tobacco habit.

The article sites that once the law goes into effect anyone who sells or gives tobacco to those under 21 years of age could be charged with a misdemeanor crime.

While the legal age to purchase tobacco in Minnesota is 18 years of age, Hatsukami says it would be wise for Minnesota to consider a similar change in its own laws.

“What is good for protecting the health of the nation is good for Minnesota,” Hatsukami said. “ I would strongly encourage the Minnesota legislators to consider this policy.”