By Mike Sigler
The county is moving ahead with a plan to raise the age to buy tobacco to 21-years-old. The Health and Human Services committee voted in favor of the law last week and there will be a public hearing in April. I’m opposed to this law change.
I hate smoking. I picked up my last cigarette more than 11 years ago. My mother died of lung cancer after a near lifetime of smoking. I also believe that, yes, a person with three more years of maturing would make better choices, perhaps one of those choices being not to smoke.
With all that said, that doesn’t change the fact that you are an adult at 18-years-old in the United States. If the debate is centered on 21-year-olds making better choices, are we also suggesting that students need to wait until they are 21 to take on 10s of 1000s of debt to finance college or on who to marry and spend the rest of their lives with; whether or not to risk their life in a war or to sign a contract; whether or not to have sex or donate an organ? They would presumably be better decision makers when driving a 2,000-pound car, fly an airplane, work heavy machinery, or drive a big rig at 21. Is the Health and Human Services Committee saying an 18-year-old woman should not be able to decide what to do with her own body? At 16 you can now be tried as an adult in New York State and the state is moving to make that 18, not 21. Why? Because it’s widely recognized that you are an adult at 18.
I’m not arguing against it being 21 because kids will find a way around the law and smoke anyway. People will always find ways around laws, not just kids. I believe the best way to fight kids from starting smoking is to fight the normalization of smoking. When I was a kid, a lot of people smoked, in restaurants, public spaces, on television; it was everywhere. Most importantly, people I respected smoked. My daughter now looks at smoking as an unusual thing. No one important to her smokes to her knowledge. It’s rare for her to see smoking.
I do believe that we can and should make legislative changes to curb smoking. When your right to smoke intrudes on my right to breathe fresh air, yes, laws are needed. I don’t have any objections to bans on smoking in public spaces. I voted for treating vaping as we do smoking. That goes to the normalization I mentioned earlier. I don’t want to see vaping become normalized or as some kind of safe alternative.
We can argue if 18 should be the age of majority or if it should be 21. It’s been 21 in the past, but since we as a nation have decided that 18 is the age of majority, that means something. I look at the drinking age. Has it lowered the death rate on roads? I think that’s arguable since cars are simply much safer than in the past and much of that problem was because the ages were different from state to state. What we have now is 18-year-olds binge drinking, pregaming themselves into oblivion, or turning to pills and weed because they’re easier to get and hide.
I think the best way to combat smoking is fighting its normalization. I’m not talking about ostracizing people. The removal of advertising, I believe, has been effective. As more people stop smoking in one generation, the next generation should see a decrease in smoking. I’m not sure you’ll ever be able to wipe out smoking. Is there a percentage level where we simply won’t see a reduction?
This may seem an odd battle because smoking is unpopular and a large majority of the country doesn’t smoke. This is basically low-hanging fruit for elected officials to restrict its citizens in the name of protecting them. After this, what other rights will be restrained in order to protect people?
I think it’s a noble cause to try and prevent young people from starting smoking, but to me it doesn’t make much sense to limit the rights of adults when we aren’t and shouldn’t be considering limiting their rights in other aspects that could have similar detrimental results to their lives like overwhelming student debt. Perhaps we should reopen the debate on whether to make 21 the age you reach adulthood, making almost everything 21-years-old or maybe we should consider lowering the age for things now prohibited to this special class of adults. There should not be a special class of adults.
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Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, a Republican, represents the Town of Lansing.