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It's Our Future
Everyone will agree that lung cancer, emphysema, and cardiovascular disease are all unwanted health problems. I think it's safe to say that if given the choice, everyone would rather not have these health issues. But yet I ask you Mr. Congressmen, what about your children? Can any of you honestly say you don't care if your children develop one of these health conditions? What if a single decision your child makes in life could greatly reduce their risk of developing one of the above mentioned health problems? Wouldn't you do all you could to insure your child makes the correct decision? Wouldn't you do all you could to insure your child chooses a healthy lifestyle over critical illness or possibly death? The United States currently has an age limitation of 18 years of age on the sale and use of tobacco products.
This is also the age when a teenager is legally considered adult enough to make decisions for themselves. However the issue before you today is not if 18 year old person is old enough to use tobacco, but rather what the 18 year old age restriction on tobacco truly does when active in society and what increasing the age restriction to 21 years of age can do for the United States.
The tender young age of 14, a time when everyone is looking for a group of people to fit in with. It's a must to wear those name brand clothes lest you be made fun of or seem "un-cool". So when the most popular guy in school passes you a cigarette in front of all your friends, you certainly don't want to be left out. But at age 14, how are these kids even getting cigarettes? If the legal age is 18, how is this even possible? The disturbing truth is that children well under the legal age of 18 have several avenues in which to obtain tobacco products. Be it from older friends, vending machines or even purchasing from a local store who is neglecting their identification checking duties. 75% of eighth graders, 82% of ninth grader and an astounding 89% of tenth graders said it would be fairly easy for them to obtain cigarettes (Lynch and Bonnie 201). In fact, a whopping 90% of smokers in the United States smoked their first cigarette before the age of 18 (Rabin and Sugarman 143). What's even more mind boggling is that the United States currently has over four million smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 (Parents par 5). It is undeniable that underage tobacco use is happening in the United States. It would be flat out moronic to think otherwise. If the legal age restriction on tobacco use was increased to 21 years of age, the number of legal buyers the same 14 year old would encounter on a daily basis would be significantly reduced. No longer would his senior classmate be able to purchase tobacco on his behalf.
So what good does that do us? While it is true that increasing the age limitation on tobacco use will not necessarily detour underage tobacco use, it will effectively increase the average age at which tobacco would become accessible to teens. Rather then a 14 year old teenager trying tobacco for the first time, we would have an 18 year old. Again, so what good does that do us? The Centers for Disease Control states: "Currently, very few people begin to use tobacco as adults; almost all first use has occurred by the time people graduate from high school" (Preventing par 5). If teenagers can make it through high school without becoming addicted to tobacco, they are much less likely to begin using tobacco products later in life. Why is that you may ask?
Nicotine in the bloodstream is quickly absorbed, reaching the brain in 30 seconds, causing the brain to release dopamine, the "feel good" neurotransmitter. Nicotine in the teenage brain causes an increase in the number of nicotine docking stations so the brain quickly adapts to the presence of nicotine and reacts negatively when it is absent. Thus teens become more easily addicted, more quickly since when these docking stations are empty they feel down and depressed, even angry and need to smoke again to alleviate negative feelings. (Walsh 19)
So the earlier in life an individual encounters nicotine, the easier it is for them to become addicted and the harder it will be for them kick the nicotine habit. If we raise the legal age restriction on tobacco use by three years, we can effective raise the age a teenager first encounters tobacco by the same margin and thereby decrease the odds for that first time tobacco experimentation to result in a tobacco addiction. In addition, this increase in age will allow most teenagers to graduate from high school in a tobacco-free environment.
Attempting to entirely eliminate the underage use of tobacco products in the United States is honestly next to impossible. It's a sad fact of society. But if we can delay the opportunity a child has on tobacco use, the child is much less likely to become addicted to the nicotine found in tobacco. A sharp decrease in overall tobacco use will be seen, thereby reducing the number of citizens developing various health problems such as lung cancer, emphysema, and cardiovascular disease. I think we can all agree that is an extremely positive outcome. An overall health increase of the United States general population is invaluable. It's your children's future as well as it is mine. Make the right decision to start our next generation off with a clean bill of health.
Lynch, Barbara, and Richard Bonnie, eds. Growing Up Tobacco Free: Preventing
Nicotine Addiction In Children and Youths. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1994.
"Parents: Nicotine Is a Real Threat To Your Kids." National Institute on Drug Abuse. 03
Feb. 2005. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 30 Oct. 2006 < http://www.nida.nih.gov/Published_Articles/Nicotinethreat.html>
"Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People." Centers For Disease Control and
Prevention. 31 Jan. 2005. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. 29 Oct. 2006 <http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/sgr_1994/index.htm>
Rabin, Robert, and Stephen Sugarman, eds.Regulating Tobacco. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001.
Walsh, David. Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain
for You and Your Teen. New York: Free Press, 2004.