Russell Saunders: Raising the Smoking Age to 21 Saves Lives – The Daily Beast

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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47 Responses

  1. Aaron David says:

    I am with Doc Saunders here, at what point do we actually consider someone an adult? All the careful planning won’t stop someone from making bad decisions, and you can only protect someone so much.Report

    • greginak in reply to Aaron David says:

      Yeah, for a purely personal stupid decision 18 is when you are an adult. They can join the military, vote, and almost all the other adult stuff. So why not be able to legally smoke. Booze, i think, is very different since the hazards of misuse involve drunk driving and violence. And frankly, everybody is going to misuse booze a bit when they start drinking.Report

      • Kim in reply to greginak says:

        I didn’t misuse booze a bit when I started.
        Of course, I was used to it being around the house.

        My friend snuck booze out of his parents’ stock since he was 16. He never got drunk enough for his parents to notice.Report

      • Hoosegow Flask in reply to greginak says:

        Perhaps, then, we should consider raising the age requirements for those other activities. We know now the brain doesn’t fully develop until the 20s. It’s arbitrary to use the 18th birthday as the demarcation point between childhood and adulthood.

        Furthermore, with smoking, there’s also the problem of social circles. Many people turn 18 while still in high school. At some point, most high schoolers will know or be friends with someone who can buy cigarettes for them.Report

        • Kim in reply to Hoosegow Flask says:

          Human brains undergo a period of plasticity, followed by very rapid ossification. it is a MISTAKE to think that ossification is “fully developed brain”, as it is associated with rapid loss of sentience.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to greginak says:

        This, if they can vote, sign contracts, and join the military, they can drink & smoke.

        If 18 is too young for mind altering substances, then it’s too young any other civic responsibility & we need to change the age of majority.

        ETA: Semi-related question – Why don’t citizens need to pass the US Citizenship test before they can fully participate in society? I’m not asking from a legal perspective, I’m asking what the moral/social justification is for just assuming it is so? Is it because it constitutes a poll test? If so, then how do we justify giving it to immigrants?Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


          I understand the logic being employed here.

          And yet… as we better understand the developing brain, we learn that key changes are still happening up through the mid-20s. It would seem to me that we’d want to best understand what these changes are and how they impact decision making. Because the fact is that not all of those decisions are analogues for one another. Some decisions have very limited consequences (i.e., voting… as sad as that is to admit), some have short-to-medium term consequences (i.e., most contracts), and some have long-term consequences (i.e., smoking). Some have consequences that are reversible and some have consequences that are largely irreversible. With this in mind, it’d seem ignorant to lump all these decisions together as “adult decisions” and declare that someone who is capable of exercising one is equally capable of exercising the others. Or, conversely, that someone incapable of exercising one is equally incapable of exercising the others.

          That doesn’t necessarily change the balance between laws protecting health/life and respecting individual autonomy/agency. Or the tension that exists with the externalities created by certain decisions.

          But it doesn’t seem wrong — and in fact, it seems rather true — to think of decision-making capability as existing on a continuum rather than being binary.

          The trouble comes from figuring out where the various thresholds exist. Especially given that all of our new understanding of the brain remains incomplete.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:


            I understand your point, but as you point out elsewhere, those facts tend to lead to bad policy. I can appreciate the desire to try and prevent young people from making bad decisions because we have the benefit of age & (presumably) wisdom, but the fact is that every kid has something that requires them to “burn their fingers to know the stove is hot”.

            We should be doing more to show kids what lungs look like & perform like after X many years of smoking (or mouths after chewing, or livers after drinking). In the same vein, quelling that self-destructive streak we have (“The liver is bad & it must be punished!”).

            But, you know, banning sh*t is just easier, and always so damned effective.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


              I agree that there is an immense question of the feasibility of my idea. But I think the logic holds. Or, more accurately, that the logic you employed is appealing (for feasibility reasons) but faulty.

              You note below the idea of “graduated adulthood” and seemed to do so mockingly. But in many ways, we already sort of have that. Legally, we let 17-year-olds do things we don’t let 15-year-olds do (e.g., drive) and we let 15-year-olds do things we don’t let 12-year-olds do (e.g., seek employment). And from what I understand, in divorce proceedings, courts weigh the preferences of children on a sliding scale, giving them enormous weight — perhaps to the point of decision-making powers — for older teens and next-to-no weight with the youngest children.

              But, yea, I don’t know how we do this in practice. Especially since the idea of hard-and-fast lines between adulthood and childhood — with those as the only two options — seems so deeply embedded in our culture.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                Kazzy: seems so deeply embedded in our culture.


                I have no issue with Graduated adulthood, as such. Some states do it with driving, no reason we couldn’t do it with alcohol or cigs, etc. But 18 is a line we have cultural habituated to, so absent an effort to move that line*, we should work with it and work to have kids ready to be adults at 18.

                *we could possibly move that line to 20 with relative ease, but we’d have to figure out what to do with a bunch of kids who are done with High School and have two years before majorityReport

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Give them free college educations!

                But let’s keep them away from alcohol and sex, if we can.

                Maybe have them live at home?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                Excellent point. And given that evidence suggests executive function skills (which I believe are largely what we are talking about when discussing the parts of brain development that impact decision making and the like) can be taught/developed, perhaps we need to put our energies behind really teaching and developing these skills in children and young people so that we don’t have to wait until they’re in their mid 20’s to trust their ability to employ them. Unfortunately, our current system is pisspoor at that and often undermines the growth and development of these skills.

                We won’t turn everyone into a highly functioning decision maker by 18, but we sure as hell can be doing much better than we are.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to greginak says:

        I prefer the way some European countries take – instead of raising the drinking age so there are 5 years of legal driving-but-not-drinking, lower the drinking age so there are a couple years of legal drinking-but-not-driving.

        If you’re right that everyone is going to misuse booze, then that would likely go for folks at almost any age – so if they’re driving at that age, whatever age it is, you’re going to have problems from inexperience with the effects of alcohol. Better to have them get a few years’ experience of drinking and the extent of its impairing effects, before entrusting them with a car.

        In Germany, for example, the ages are 16 to buy booze and 18 to drive. When I was there, I rode my bike home considerably wobbly many times – slowly, through parks and quiet streets. I might have gotten a broken wrist, but I wasn’t going to kill anyone.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog says:

          I’ll tell this story again, why not.

          When I worked at the restaurant, a French family came in with their two little boys (regular customers). The two boys were like 6 and 8 and they looked like they could be stunt doubles for the Campbell’s Soup kids. Nothing but bright eyes and chubby cheeks. The parents ordered a bottle of wine and the 8 year old got a 1/2 glass of wine (the rest of the glass was filled with water) and the 6 year old got a 1/3rd glass of wine (the rest of the glass was filled with water) and the family ate and laughed and enjoyed their dinner together.

          I have no doubt that when these kids grew up, they would not see wine as a big deal. Wine is what you drink with a meal.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

            Why do you hate America and its freedoms, @jaybird ?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

              I did consider calling the police to have the parents arrested for child abuse…Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                You should have. They were clearly monsters. Unfortunately, it seems cultural relativism has sank its claws into you and eroded your own sense of freedom to meddle in other people’s lives.

                I’ll get you a ticket to re-education camp! (We found calling it camp made it far more palatable to most people. I think that is indication we’ve gone soft but if offering people s’mores while we beat the souls of their feet with a rubber hose keeps us in line with the Geneva Convention, s’mores it is!)Report

    • I’m actually pretty conflicted on this one.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to Will Truman says:

        Oh, I have had my own struggles with the great god Nick O’Teen* also, @will-truman but that doesn’t change the fact that we do need to draw a line in the sand at some point and say, nope, at this point you are an adult, the choices and consequences are yours.

        *Kipling, The BetrothedReport

  2. Jaybird says:

    Why don’t we just make it illegal to smoke?

    Or merely illegal to buy or sell cigarettes?

    Imagine how many lives we could save!Report

  3. j r says:

    For me it comes down to this: I generally trust pediatricians to give good medical advice, but policy advise is a different thing.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to j r says:

      Doctors are great bearers of iatrogenic illnesses; you’re best advised to stay away from them most of the time. When they do not make you sick, they often can do nothing for you (ever consulted a sleep-lab psychologist?), or they’re so pre-occupied with data entry in their electronic medical record that it’s a waste of time for you to be there and for them to be in your presence. Regarding the elderly, you encounter physicians who get the idea in their head they want to repair this and end up treading water as the side-effects of all the medications they prescribe overwhelm the patient.Report

      • Kim in reply to Art Deco says:

        You haven’t met a real doctor yet.
        Ya know, the type that tells you how much they’re looking forward to your autopsy report.
        (I remain uncertain as to whether this is merely a different culture’s idea of “good beside manner” or the research doctors’ just haven’t given beside manner a first thought).Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    We all know how well raising the drinking age worked or all other forms of prohibition work. Not well. At the same time fewer people smoke and alcohol is less deadly than nicotine so this has a slight chance of working.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

      It works out well enough. It definitely has reduced pre-21 year old alcohol consumption and drunk driving.

      It also instills contempt for the law from the otherwise order following middle and upper classes, and provides yet another avenue for poor and/or minority young people, particular young men, to gain entry in the carceral state.

      But you know, you can’t make an omelette…Report

      • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

        All else equal, I’d prefer my kids not drink, smoke or take drugs until they are twenty-five, and their brains have stopped developing. I’d also prefer they not take the risk of knocking anyone up, getting knocked up, or catching an STD, until they are financially-established and mentally and emotionally mature enough to deal with all that; again, that’s probably twenty-five, for most people.

        But the fact of the matter is, if you legally-compel someone to wait until even twenty-one to do all the fun-yet-dangerous stuff, that’s 25% of their life already gone. More, if they die earlier (even if they don’t, there’s not a lot of hedonistic fun taking place in that last decade or two or three).

        It’s just not a reasonable demand of make of us hairless apes with our finite lifespans on this crazy ball of dirt.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

          Maybe we need to put more effort into finding fun-and-safe stuff to do. Or, more accurately, to make the fun-yet-dangerous stuff less dangerous.

          At least part of the difficulty there stems from people who object to the fun stuff on its face. Who equate the danger presented by the fun stuff as evidence of the immorality of the fun stuff. Ya know, the people who object to teaching young people safe sex practices because the idea of fun-and-safe sex means more sex and sex is bad. So we should not make it safer. Which, we all know, doesn’t mean less sax happens… just more dangerous sex.

          We really need to abandon that mindset. And figure out a form of smoking that doesn’t ravage the body or really investing in whatever it takes to let people get hammered but never get behind the wheel of a car.

          You’ll always have thrill seekers for whom the risk is part of the fun, but I think most smokers would gladly prefer Happy-Fun-Time-Health-Sticks to Cancer-Sticks.Report

  5. Damon says:

    Pick an age for being an adult and let that age do it all. Drink smoke, vote, die in wars, etc. Let’s not have x age for this and y age for that.Report

    • Aaron in reply to Damon says:

      If you do that, you’re simply going to make life more restrictive for minors. Not all tasks associated with adulthood are equally complex and/or dangerous.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Aaron says:

        Well then we’ll need to be very clear about our new, graduated adulthood programs here in the states.Report

      • Damon in reply to Aaron says:

        “If you do that, you’re simply going to make life more restrictive for minors.” Why. Make it all 18. How does that restrict life any more than currently for minors?Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Damon says:

      I still favour two ages – an age for doing things that are merely stupid and/or stupidity-inducing, and another for things with high likelihood of being lethal to others if done while stupid.

      I also think Canada and the US have those two ages out of their logical order. Better to get a few years experience being completely surprised that you’re still drunk or stoned at this time in the evening, when you’re riding the bus home.Report

      • Autolukos in reply to dragonfrog says:

        I can’t speak to Canada, but where I grew up “riding the bus home” wasn’t a terribly realistic option for most people. Either someone was driving or you were riding a bicycle (not so bad in the summer, but have fun with that in the winter in Wisconsin).Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to Autolukos says:

          Well yes, there’s that. I grew up in Saskatoon – a city right in the overlap of being too small but sprawlily North-American to have a useful transit service, but too big to walk across.

          I once got in short-lived trouble after I waited for the last bus home from a party wearing a black overcoat, under a burnt out streetlight (surprise – the driver didn’t see me and drove past), then couldn’t phone my parents to tell them I wouldn’t be home until morning, because either I or one of my parents had left the phone off the hook.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Autolukos says:

          Ahh! Another Cheesehead! Welcome fellow who can pronounce Waukesha correctly!Report