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Study Explores Benefits of Raising Legal Smoking Age

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What’s the advantage of raising the legal tobacco age from 18 to 21? According to a new report, it could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

The report, which was recently released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), says making that switch could prevent 249,000 premature deaths among people born between the years 2000 and 2019. The report suggests the change could lead to a 12-percent reduction in the number of smokers by the year 2100.

In recent years there’s been much discussion about raising the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 19, 20, 21 or even 25. Richard Bonnie, who chaired the IOM committee responsible for the report, says the “public health benefits of raising the age to 21 are substantially greater than raising it to 19.”

For example, if the smoking age was raised to 19, the reduction in the number of smokers would be only 3-percent by the year 2100.

The report presents a number of interesting findings. For example, if the legal smoking age was raised to 21 right now, by 2100 there would be roughly 286,000 fewer preterm births, 438,000 fewer cases of low birth weight, and approximately 4,000 fewer sudden infant death cases.

The report also found that, should a person refrain from using tobacco products until age 26, there’s a good chance they will never use such products in their lifetime.

Unsurprisingly, the American Lung Association has thrown its support behind the IOM report. “This new report from the IOM provides important evidence and shows that states and local communities should consider increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products as a potential policy to reduce youth tobacco use among other proven policies such as increasing taxes on tobacco products and passing comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws,” the group said.

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