BY RYAN PRESTON
Although the current legal smoking age is 18, more and more states are finding evidence that 70% of all smokers started smoking between the ages of 15-21 and are now considering increasing the smoking age to 21. Almost one-in-five Americans smoke cigarettes, which equals about 42 million people according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
This past June, Hawaii became the first state to pass a bill increasing the smoking age to 21, which will go into effect in January 2016. Other states, including Michigan, are introducing bills to follow suit. Although Washtenaw Community College’s campus is smoke-free, students and faculty share opinions of this relatively quiet change.
“I started smoking when I was 17, but I dipped with the high school baseball team since freshman year,” said Joe Dahl, a 19-year-old journalism student from Ann Arbor. “It was just a normal thing to do with the team. The coaches didn’t seem to mind and I don’t honestly think it would’ve been much harder to get dip (chewing tobacco) if you had to be 21. Ask anyone in high school – you can still get alcohol.”
Even for those who wouldn’t necessarily be affected by the change, they reflect on what it would be like if they fell into the underage category.
“I’ll be honest I’m 21 now so I couldn’t care less, but I would be a little angry if I wasn’t. I think people just need to be honest with kids about smoking,” said 21-year-old student, Daniel Sigmon from Ann Arbor. “I’ve been doing it for years now and it hasn’t killed me, but I’ll probably regret it when I’m 40 and can’t breathe.”
Even from a young age, children are shown the effects of smoking but not always why people start in the first place.
“I mean people show you when you’re like 10 ‘Oh jeez, here’s a lung of some guy who smoked two packs a day,’ but they don’t tell you why people smoke,” Sigmon said. “They just teach you to hate cigarettes and anything to do with it, including the people. In a world where everyone has to be politically correct and tolerant, why can’t kids have a cigarette or a beer, but can go out and die for their country and vote?”
Kathleen Quintus, a WCC psychology instructor who was also a school psychiatrist can explain the possible reason for raising the smoking age.
“Kids in high school are at the prime time to become addicted to substances such as tobacco,” Quintus said. “Young minds are still trying to learn to cope with new environments and problems, and often turn to things like cigarettes. That’s why for years tobacco companies tried to advertise to children because if they get the kids early, they can get them for life.”