Examining WA state's effort to restrict tobacco sales under 21. [990 words]

At What Age Are Humans Adults?


A few weeks ago the WA state House voted to raise the tobacco sales age to twenty-one, passing House Bill 1074. Washington's bill raising the smoking age isn't new, in fact it has passed the House several times before only to die in the Senate. Current Senate Bill 5057 looks a lot more likely to pass this year after victories for Democrats in the 2018 election. Washington will join California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon, should Governor Inslee enact the new law.

Clearly, all evidence suggests he will.

You can still purchase a firearm in Washington at eighteen, but there are conditions which restrict full ownership until age twenty-one. Just this past November, WA voters passed I-1639, adding restrictions requiring purchasers of semi-automatic firearms be at least twenty-one years old. Liquor & Marijuana purchases both require a valid ID and the holder be age twenty-one or over.

You could be forgiven for thinking Washington State feels like twenty-one is the threshold for adulthood.

But, the United States Federal government wouldn't agree. Eighteen year old citizens acquire many rights and responsibilities, one of the biggest being the right to participate in their democracy. How many know that before 1971, Americans needed to be twenty-one years old before voting.

Voting Rights

The United States passed the twenty-sixth amendment in 1971 that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, mostly because 18 year olds were being drafted and sent to Vietnam to risk death for their country. Americans felt it fair they have a say in such matters.

Is this any less the case now? Would this amendment even pass today? Given the trend to err on the side of caution by judging some rights unsafe for 18, but ok for 21, it's conceivable it wouldn't. Of course it's not all rights and privileges, Uncle Sam expects things in return.

Selective Service

As you may or may not be aware, the Federal government still demands Selective Service registration for all male citizens within 30 days of their 18th birthday. And women could be next. Equal rights is about to spread to the draft if the above ruling stands. And it's not as if the Government is nonchalant about a citizen's participation or shirking thereof. They take it very seriously if you don't comply.

Failing to register or comply with the Military Selective Service Act is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 or a prison term of up to five years, or a combination of both. Also, a person who knowingly counsels, aids, or abets another to fail to comply with the Act is subject to the same penalties.

Other 18 Year Old Privileges

And, in reality, Washington, like most states, will let 18 year old's do almost everything. There are only a few select items which are deemed not ready for use until one reaches the age of twenty-one. For example:
Why Are Some Things Only Safe at Twenty-One?

When you start to ponder the list, the conclusion isn't exactly difficult to figure out. Liquor, marijuana, certain classes of firearms, and most rental cars. In some states, gambling and marriage (not mutually exclusive) join the list. What do they all share? They're considered dangerous or risky. Some states have decided eighteen isn't adult enough for such things.

But how does that reconcile with a nation which demands Selective Service registration and allows active military service for every eighteen-year-old? Eleven-thousand four-hundred and sixty-five (11,465) Americans killed in Vietnam had not reached their twentieth birthday yet. If you're old enough to die for your country, what exactly are you too young for? Largely due to those sacrifices, Americans demanded and passed an amendment ensuring eighteen-year-old citizens had the right to vote. But tobacco is a bridge too far?

Nanny State Nonsense?

My libertarian streak bristles at nanny-state laws designed to protect people from themselves but I am not unaware that I live in a democratic society. I understand the allure of designing smart civil policies to attempt to save real tax-payer dollars but this is also a country of freedoms. Tobacco products are still legal, as a reminder. Additionally, history has clearly demonstrated that prohibition of a product only serves to create a black market where none need exist.

If society is going to allow a substance to be legal for adults, it seems in everyone's best interest if society can agree when adulthood occurs. Why create confusion with separate rules for this, that and the other. Pick one! Yes, just like with Daylight Saving Time, my preference is consistency.

Smoking is certainly bad for you. I'm aware being a former smoker. But, why twenty-one? Why not twenty-five? Forty? Why not fifty? There's not going to be an age when it's good for you. So, it's about what age you deem a human able to decide for themselves on the matter. If you're old enough to vote, sign legal contracts and serve your country, it seems reasonable you be allowed to buy a pack of menthols. Don't though.

Thanks For Reading!

I'm always humbled when someone like you spends their valuable time reading something I scribbled. Thanks much.

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