By Sophie Lovering
Sophie Lovering is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and minoring in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies.
“[The United States] raises smoking age to 21! BIG!” Trump wrote on December 20, 2019, referencing a measure included in a sweeping spending bill signed into law in late 2019 . According to the American Lung Association (ALA), increasing the age of sale for tobacco products by just three years will save approximately 50,000 lives . Drs. Steinberg and Delnevo write that most addicted smokers begin their smoking habit before the age of 18, and that marketing is often targeted at young adults, making them an at-risk age group . These researchers argue that an increase in smoking age to 21 will not only make it more difficult for young adults to access tobacco products, but also disrupt the natural trajectory “from experimentation to regular use” 
Although scientists, lobbyists, and even a bipartisan mix of senators  have supported an increase in the age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21, there has also been opposition. According to Dr. Steinberg and Dr. Delnevo, opponents argue that this age restriction will hurt small businesses, be difficult to enforce, and cause a loss in tax revenue . The researchers refute most of these arguments, contesting that laws should not be forgotten simply because they are difficult to enforce. They argue the concern over a loss in tax revenue is short-sighted, as the legislation will have an overall cost-saving effect .
Some groups against the increased age limit propose a more philosophical opposition, one that is ingrained in American political culture: individual liberty. Dr. Paul Hsieh, a physician and writer for Forbes focused on promoting a free market, believes that the government should not have the power to regulate the decisions of competent young adults . Although Dr. Hsieh agrees with most parents, health professionals, and legislators that smoking is a terrible idea, he advocates for individual liberty and begs the question: “Is it the government’s job to stop legal adults from making unhealthy life choices?” . He says that, in a free market, the economic burden of smoking would be placed on smokers themselves . He also invokes the commonly used argument that if an individual is old enough to serve in the military, they should also be allowed to decide whether or not to assume the risks of smoking .
Government regulation is often in tension with individual liberty. Politicians argue daily about balancing individual freedoms with public order and safety, questioning if young adults should be able to smoke or drink before 21, especially if these decisions have an impact on the public good. Ultimately, people have different opinions on how much government intervention is appropriate.
It is important to conduct your own research. Research concerning the consequences of smoking and the health benefits in other countries that increased their smoking age is clearly in favor of this new policy. The smoking age has already been increased from 18 to 21 in the United States, but it is important to understand why‒and how‒this happened. You have representatives, and I encourage you to use them to voice your opinion about what you consider to be appropriate government regulation in a public arena.
The opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.
 Howard, Jacqueline. “US raises legal age to buy cigarettes, vapes to 21.” CNNhealth. December 20, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/20/health/tobacco-age-21- trump-spending-bill-bn/index.html.
 “Tobacco 21 Laws: Raising the Minimum Sales Age for All Tobacco Products to 21.” American Lung Association. January 3, 2020. https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/tobacco /cessation-and-prevention/tobacco-21-laws.html.
 Steinberg, Michael B., and Christine D. Delnevo. “Increasing the ‘Smoking Age’: The Right Thing to Do.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. December 12, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5726390/.
 Hsieh, Paul. “If 18-Year-Olds Can Fight For Their Country, They Should Be Able To Smoke A Cigarette.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulhsieh/2019/05/28/if-18-year-olds- can-fight-for-their-country-they-should-be-able-to-smoke-a-cigarette/#4335b1e4170a.
Photo by Andres Siimon on Unsplash