Lawmakers in Colorado and Utah advanced bills on Thursday to raise the legal age for buying tobacco to 21. If the measures get final approval, the two Western states will be the first in the nation to have raised the smoking age to that level.
Legislators say that raising the age to 21 will discourage, or at least delay, young people from picking up the habit. “What I’m hoping to do is make it harder for kids to obtain cigarettes,” said Colorado state Rep. Cheri Gerou (R), a proponent of the smoking bill.
Studies have shown that regular smokers consume their first cigarette or tobacco product before the age of 18. Public health officials around the world consider smoking — which accounts for 480,000 American deaths every year — to be the number one preventable cause of death.
Utah — where the legal tobacco purchase age is already 19 — and Colorado currently have some of the lowest smoking rates in the country, a trend that extends to the other states in that region. In fact, Utah’s smoking rate is just over half the national average of 18.1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Anti-smoking advocates have seized on raising the tobacco age as their newest avenue for curbing smoking rates. To date, several counties in Massachusetts and New York City have raised the legal age to 21. One study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that raising the smoking age to 21 could reduce smoking among teenagers aged 14 to 17 by as much as 82 percent. After England raised its smoking age from 16 to 18, youth smoking dropped by nearly 30 percent, according to the BBC.