By Jon Vitale

Elm Staff Writer

This year, the debate over the legal age for tobacco sales in Maryland has heated up.

While proposed legislation to raise the tobacco buying age to 21 had been stagnant for years, it has recently been gaining momentum amongst Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates and State Senate, as well as the Legislative Black Caucus. The proposed bill would raise the legal age required to purchase all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, and other vaping devices. Under the new law, the penalty for selling tobacco products to someone underage would be a fine beginning at $300 for first offenders, the same penalty in place right now.

The proposed legislation has been drumming up increasing support. Proponents have argued that it would be an important public health policy. One of the primary aims of the bill is to reduce tobacco use in young people, which has been a growing concern. NBC Washington reported CDC data indicating that 4.9 million middle and high school students were regular tobacco users in 2018, up from 3.6 million in 2017.

The Baltimore Sun reported a poll from Goucher College that found 66 percent of a sample size of more than 800 Maryland residents support raising the tobacco age to 21. If the legislation does pass, it would make Maryland the eighth state to raise the age to 21, after California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia. The District of Columbia, as well as various counties and municipalities throughout the country, have also taken the action.

Like many government policies, raising the tobacco age to 21 is well-intentioned. It is a good thing that the government is making efforts to protect public health, and the prospect of sticking it to big tobacco companies with laws like this understandably has an appeal to many Americans.

However, well-intentioned or otherwise, raising the tobacco age to 21 is a measure that Maryland would be wise to avoid.

Tobacco consumption might be a serious health concern in the United States but throwing government restrictions at the problem will not make it go away.

The reality is that underage people will continue to obtain tobacco products the same way they do now: under the table. Many people under the age of 18 use tobacco products regularly, regardless of what the law says. They will continue to do so with the age set at 21.

On the surface, government actions aimed at protecting public health seem like a good idea. Similar arguments were made in favor of the War on Drugs: that it is the duty of the government to protect us from health threats.

To use a similar example, most people agree that the idea of government restrictions on junk food is ridiculous. Attempted government taxes on fatty foods have failed, despite obesity claiming nearly as many American lives as smoking every year. Childhood obesity is a far more widespread problem than underage smoking.

So long as people understand the health risks of harmful products, it should be their choice to consume those products, whether it be junk food, tobacco products, or another harmful substance. There is no reason to deny adult citizens the ability to make that choice for themselves.

We should aim to expand the individual liberties of legal adults. For Maryland, to raise the tobacco age to 21 would be a step in the wrong direction.

The Elm

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