Let Adults Be Adults: Keeping the smoking age at 18

It’s probably the biggest question in growing up. When do you become an adult? In America that magic number is 18. That’s when you can move out of your parent’s house, join the military, vote, and even buy a pack of cigarettes. Or at least that’s what it is today, but if the federal government has anything to say about it, it won’t be that way for long.

The federal government is said to be trying to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 in this next budget deal, trampling individual and state rights in one fell swoop in the process. We’re told that 18-year-olds today just aren’t as mature as generations past, that 18 and 19-year-olds just aren’t ready to make such a big decision that could change the rest of their lives. That the only way to save them from themselves is to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products.

And those two arguments simply hold no merit. The first argument, that 18-year-olds today aren’t as mature as previous generations when they were that age, is an argument as old as humanity itself. In all recorded history the older generations have been ranting and raving about the immaturity of youth, and how when their generation was that age, they respected their elders more, made better decisions, and had more responsibility.

Those claims hold as much water as the claims that they walked three miles to school in five feet of snow uphill both ways. They blissfully ignore their own immaturity in youth and would resent the implications that they weren’t ready to take on the world at that age because deep down they know, at that age they WERE ready. No, they weren’t as mature as they are now and no they didn’t always make the best decisions, but they were free to make those decisions, and no one could stop them. As it should be.

The second argument is even worse than the first. We blissfully allow 18-year-olds to join the military, and often watch as they get kicked out of their homes to fend for themselves. Big decisions, and sometimes not even a choice, with lifelong implications. In courts we treat them as adults, knowing that they are fully capable of understanding that their actions have consequences. But when it comes to their own body somehow, they just aren’t capable of understanding? That the only way these individuals can be trusted to make the right decision is to take the choice away from them by raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products?  

The logic must follow if these individuals don’t possess enough sense to make smart decisions for themselves that they don’t possess enough sense to be tried as adults, vote, join the military, or be self-sufficient. They should be treated like children in all aspects of life, we shouldn’t just pick and choose in which ways to treat them as an adult and which to treat them as a child.

I want to end this by telling you a story of one of these “immature” individuals from the younger generation. At 18 years old he got married. At 18 years old he joined the military and at 19 he had a kid. He spent his 21st birthday in 130-degree heat, on the other side of the world of his wife and son. He did this while going to school full time and got his degree at 23 years old. At 23 he missed his daughter’s first birthday because once again he was spending his time in the desert on the other side of the world. And now he’s sitting behind this computer typing this story.

I’m still only 25, but I have my degree, I have three wonderful children, an amazing wife, and outside of a car payment, am completely debt free. None of this would have happened if the federal government would have stepped in and said that I wasn’t ready to make such big decisions. Those decisions had lifelong implications. I won’t get those missed birthdays back. I won’t get to see the look in my daughters eyes the first time she saw the Easter Bunny. My kids still get me up almost every night. But at 18 I was allowed to make those decisions, and I’m sure glad that I did. Don’t pretend that 18-year-olds today aren’t as mature as previous generations and are incapable of making these decisions too.