- - Thursday, August 24, 2017


Only a hermit in a mountain cave in the wilds of the Montana outback hasn’t heard that smoking is hazardous to health, his, others and maybe even the health of the grizzlies. Since the U.S. Surgeon General warned everyone in 1964 that puffing the wicked weed is deadly as well as anti-social, no one can plead ignorance of the risk of lung cancer, other diseases, and a painful, premature death,

Nevertheless, more than a half-century later 40 million Americans smoke, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Foolish as it is, in a free society adults are free to do a lot of foolish things, including smoking. Not everyone wants a nanny.

Maine’s conservative Republican governor, Paul LePage, understands that. He denounced as “social engineering” a bill that raised the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, and then vetoed it.

“I believe that, at 18, [young people] they are mature enough to make a decision, and I’m tired of living in a society where we social engineer our lives,” Mr. LePage told a radio interviewer. But the legislature overrode his veto.

Beginning in July 2018, those under 21 in Maine will no longer be allowed to buy cigars, cigarettes, chewing tobacco or vaping paraphernalia.

Becoming the fourth state to raise the age, Maine followed New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie this summer signed legislation raising the legal age from 19 to 21. A week after Maine acted, Oregon became the fifth state to raise the limit. Hawaii and California had raised the age limit earlier.

Proponents argue that raising the age to 21 puts tobacco in a category with alcohol. But there’s a difference. Secondhand smoke can kill, as we know, but smokers, dippers and chewers mostly kill themselves, and over a period of years and decades. An 18-, 19- or 20-year-old drunken driver can kill himself and others in a single night of drinking.

Proponents of raising to 21 what the lawyers and the nannies call the “minimum age of legal access,” or MLA, argue that raising the age limit would save thousands of lives. No doubt, but it’s still a nanny’s notion that “we know what’s in your best interest better than you do.”

The American Journal of Public Health argued last year that a minimum age of legal access of 21 “would reduce smoking initiation and prevalence, particularly among those younger than 18 years.” The Institute of Medicine says that if the MLA were immediately raised to 19 the use of tobacco among teenagers would decline before they become adults. Raise it to 21, they added, and the drop would be even greater.

But tobacco sales to the young under 18 is already illegal in all 50 states, and it’s clear that underage users are getting their smokes from someone. If the age limits are to be raised, however, it ought to be done by the states. Congress enacted the Family Smoking Protection and Tobacco Control Act eight years ago, which specifically bars the Food and Drug Administration from imposing a nationwide prohibition above age 18. If there’s going to be “social engineering,” the engineers should be local. The feds have enough to do already.

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