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COMMENT: Raise the smoking age

2.6 Million Australians aged 18 years or over smoke every day

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2.6 Million Australians aged 18 years or over smoke every day

Brigid Dix, Reporter

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Cigarettes, we all know they’re bad for us.

My Dad refers to them as cancer sticks.

I know them as the thing that led to my Grandpa dying from emphysema before I was born. But I’d never stopped to consider that as soon as a person turns 18 they can buy cigarettes.

With all the health warnings around, I’ve always thought older people smoke, but it seems quite a lot of young people also smoke.

According to Tobacco In Australia, a comprehensive review of smoking in Australia compiled by the Cancer Council Victoria, in 2016 17% of males and 15% of Females aged between 18-24 smoke.

As a 19-year-old I could go into a shop, present my ID card and purchase a pack of cigarettes.

Recently, mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest suggested the smoking age should be raised to 21.

He is starting an ‘Eliminate Cancer Initiative’ which plans to take on tobacco companies by pursuing legal action against them, as well as pushing Federal Parliament to change the smoking age to 21.

Now I don’t always agree with what Mr Forrest has to say, but for once I couldn’t agree more.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 2014-2015 14.5% of Australians aged 18 or over reported smoking on a daily basis. This is equal to 2.6 million adults.

Smoking has been shown to have pronounced affects on a person’s health. According to the Centre for Disease Control, smoking can lead to multiple cancers, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, complications in pregnancy and can decrease immune system efficiency.

When we are still teenagers, at 18 or 19 years old, we may think smoking is a cool habit and perhaps see our health as invincible.

A few of my young adult friends do smoke and I often wonder if that would be the case if they had to wait until they were 21 to smoke.

A legal age to smoke set at 18 may mean that more young people are getting addicted without regard for their health.

According to Maurice Swanson, the President of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, “If we can stop people from starting to smoke while they are adolescents, it is far less likely they will ever take it up.”

Cancer Council Australia found that 20% of cancer cases were caused by long-term smoking.

In Hawaii, and a few other American states, a person has to be 21 years of age to purchase and smoke cigarettes. I wonder should Australia adopt a similar stance?  After all, are young adults really mature enough to be making a decision to buy cigarettes? How quickly do new smokers develop a nicotine addiction?

According to Mental Health Daily, we don’t reach full maturity until the age of 25. Which means that at a younger age we may make more reckless decisions than we might make when were in our late 20s. But we are supposedly mature enough to be able to make the decision to openly purchase cigarettes and smoke.

The argument might be that this ‘lack of maturity theory’ should also apply to other situations.

I wonder how many Uni students might opt for a ‘beer and cigarettes diet’ when trying to budget their meager student allowance.

But drinking and smoking, while both are highly addictive and have health implications, are two different games.

There are tighter regulations and penalties which impact on where people can drink, and how much alcohol can be consumed.  If a young adult is only having a drink or two every weekend, or socially, is that as potentially lethal as a young person who smokes every day?

While there may be designated smoking zones in public places, are these by-laws enforced through fining smokers as frequently as alcohol-related offences are policed?  A deli owner can’t refuse to sell an 18-year-old with ID multiple packs of cigarettes.

I think in raising the legal smoking age may minimize the number of people smoking, as it gives them the chance to think about what they’re actually doing to their health, rather than just seeing it as something cool that all their friends are doing.  It may also stop tobacco company’s success in getting young people hooked on a costly lifetime habit.

Health concerns are a complex matter, in relation to young people, but I think raising the smoking age to 21 is a good start.

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COMMENT: Raise the smoking age