Raising the Age to Smoke
This is the third in a three part series.
The second part on the Governor’s call to stamp out smoking is here
This first part on local communities getting tougher laws for smoking is here.
Smoking kills nearly 6,000 Oklahomans every year according to the Centers for Disease Control and our state ranks one of the highest in the nation.
And, the best way to quit smoking? Don’t start!
So now, one lawmaker wants to boost the age of smoking which is currently 18 up to 21 which would be a first in the nation.
The year was 1994.
That’s when lawmakers passed a bill restricting access to smoking to anyone under the age of 18.
Before that time it certainly wasn’t unusual to see smoking places in high schools where students mingled with teachers having cigarette breaks.
It also was normal for kids of any age to go into stores and buy packs of cigarettes.
Fast forward to today where House Bill 2314 would bump the prohibition age to anyone under 21.
Representative Ann Coody got the idea for the bill from a Lawton doctor raising concerns about the health of young people.
She says people 18 to 24 are very susceptible to addiction.
In fact, a new surgeon general report shows that people who start smoking at a younger age are more likely to take it up as a habit.
“If we raise the age from 18 to 21 eventually it would get to 21 then perhaps by the time they get to 21 they would be mature enough to think this rally isn’t a good idea.”
While the underage smoking law has been around for nearly 20 years, some minors have still found a way around it.
21-year-old Rolando Acosta smokes a cigarette as he waits for his girlfriend outside a salon on northwest 23rd in Oklahoma City.
Rolando started smoking when he was 16-year-old and says minors will find a way to get it.
“Either way kids are going to find other ways to get cigarettes. When I first started smoking I just bummed them off my friends. I hung out with older people, so I just asked one of my friends to get me a pack. That was the simple way.”
Down the street at Oklahoma City University, 26-year-old Lindsay doesn’t smoke, but she did in her teenage years.
She compares smoking laws to drinking age laws.
“You have to wait till your 21 to drink and because I did wait until I was 21 to drink, I don’t drink right now, but if I were already drinking and breaking the law it wouldn’t have mattered. So, people who were already smoking it’s not going to make a difference, but people who actually abide by the law, it may. It could. Probably not.”
The State Health Department didn’t start doing studies on smokers under the age of 18 until 1999, but officials say there has been a drop.
In the first study 13 years ago, 33% of high school student and nearly 17% of middle school student smoked.
Compare that to 20% of high school students and 6.5% of middle school students in 2009.
Not everyone at the capitol agrees with the idea of increasing the smoking age.
Owasso Representative David Derby was one of the no votes in the public health committee where it passed 7 to 5.
“You can be 18 years old, die for our country and you can’t smoke. Also, you’re an adult after the age of 18, you have freedom of choice to do what you want why in the world is the state of Oklahoma is telling you what you can and can’t do.”
But, Representative Coody says it’s about snuffing out the number one preventable health problem in the state.
“I know that it’s not the cure all or the answer to all of our problems, all our disease problems, but maybe it would be one step that would help. And, if we can save one life, just one life, it would be worth it.”
Currently, four other states have increased their age requirements on tobacco to 19, but no state has increased the smoking age to 21.
The smoking age requirement under House Bill 2314 would increase gradually over the next three years to in essence grandfather in those who are currently of legal age to smoke.