Proposed legislation would have only minimal impact on prevalence of smoking

To the Editor:

I was surprised to read in Robert Nelb’s recent column (“Law would protect all from cigarettes,” 3/29) such a naive acceptance that raising the legal age for smoking would help the nation’s smoking problem. True, 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 21, but the great majority of those start before they’re 18. Nearly 20 percent of high-school seniors, according to the American Lung Association, smoke cigarettes daily, while the average for the ages 18 to 24 is about 23 percent, according to the CDC. So, according to this data, raising the legal smoking age to 21 will decrease smoking by 3 percent. Tops. That is, if we assume that all youths 18 to 21 will obey the law (judging by high-school smoking statistics and by college students’ obedience of the legal drinking age, illegality does not seem to be a major deterrent), and also that all of those who did not start smoking from ages 18 to 21 will not start at any later date.

Smoking is a major health problem, but this country has enough well-intentioned but ultimately useless legislation. While it’s heartwarming that a high-school student wants to change the world, we should consider the effectiveness of a policy before supporting its implementation, and judging by available statistics, this would be a tremendously fruitless one.

Caio Camargo ’09

March 29

The writer is in Timothy Dwight College.