The Australian state of Tasmania has proposed raising the legal age to smoke cigarettes to 21 or as high as 25. The proposal is part of the state's plan to be the healthiest in Australia by 2025, the BBC reported. Tasmania's smoking rate is one of the highest in Australia, and studies have shown raising the legal smoking age could have enormous effects on a smoking rate.
Tasmania's health minister Michael Ferguson put the smoking proposal on the table at part of the state's five-year health plan, saying Tasmania's smoking rate was unacceptable. The minimum legal age for smoking in Tasmania is 18, and approximately 19.3 percent of adults in Tasmania were found to smoke daily in 2013, according to The National Drug Strategy Household Survey. To compare, Australia's national smoking rate was 13.3 percent.
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"International evidence supports raising minimum legal smoking age as a means of targeting the most at-risk age category for smoking uptake," Ferguson said in a statement accompanying his plan, the Independent reported. "Studies show that most smokers take up the habit before the age of 25."
Raising the legal smoking age could greatly reduce the smoking rate, especially among teens age 15 to 17, a report published in March by the Institute of Medicine found. The age at which people start to smoke is crucial to the smoking rate: 90 percent of adults who become daily smokers reported they smoked their first cigarette before they turned 19, according to the study. Almost 100 percent reported using their first cigarette before they turned 26.
Raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 19 would not be as effective as raising the legal age to 21, because the parts of the brain that are most susceptible to peer pressure are still developing at age 18, the study said. Raising the legal smoking age to 21 would be more effective, because that would mean smokers with legally obtained cigarettes would be less likely to socialize with high school students. Raising the minimum age to 19 would likely reduce the smoking rate among teens by 3 percent by the time they become adults, the researchers found. Raising the age to 21 would lead to a 12 percent reduction in the smoking rate, and raising the legal age to 25 would lead to a 16 percent decrease in the smoking rate.
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The legal smoking age in the United States is dictated by state law, and most states set the legal age to 18. Four states set it at 19, and a handful of cities have raised the minimum age to 21. The smoking rate in the U.S. in 2014 was 16.8 percent, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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