Minnesota’s success at reducing the percentage of people in the state who smoke has stalled recently. About 13.8 percent of Minnesotans smoke, compared with 14.4 percent four years ago. It could be that those who want to quit have managed to do so, and the rest are hard-core smokers.
That’s why it’s important to keep young people from starting the tobacco habit. Dr. Tyler Oesterle, a Mayo Clinic child and adolescent psychiatrist, told the Minnesota Senate that addiction tendency spikes during the teenage years. Teenagers who start smoking are likely to become addicted to nicotine, placing their future health in jeopardy.
Oesterle said 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18. “If you don’t smoke, if you wait until you’re older, around age 21 perhaps, you have less chance of developing an addiction,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 90 percent of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18.
Oesterle was speaking in support of the “Tobacco 21” effort in the Minnesota Legislature this session. The bill would raise to 21 the age for buying tobacco products. Twenty-two Minnesota cities already have Tobacco 21 policies in place, but enacting a statewide law would make the age uniform across the state.
What is particularly troubling is the rise in e-cigarette use among teenagers and young adults. Even those who haven’t previously smoked cigarettes are using e-cigarettes, which can be equally addictive.
The Tobacco 21 bill has cosponsors from both parties in the Senate. The authors say the bill could reduce smoking among 15- to 17-year-olds by as much as 25 percent. That might be optimistic, but a reduction of even half that amount would make the effort worthwhile.
There’s no need to recount here the long-term health risks associated with smoking and tobacco use. It wouldn’t matter to most teens, because they either plan to live forever or don’t plan to smoke forever. Isn’t that the way all of us look at our addictions? We plan to change our bad habits at some point in the future.
The trick is to avoid starting bad habits, and in that category, smoking is practically at the top of the list.
We’re not convinced Tobacco 21 will entirely eliminate smoking among teenagers. In some cases, lighting up a cigarette is about rebellion or about belonging to a crowd. Those basic desires will never go away.
However, we support the intention behind the bill to reduce smoking, and we hope legislators will favorably consider it in the current session.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ROCHESTER POST-BULLETIN