New Jersey's Senate approved a raise in the legal smoking age from 19 to 21 last week, pushing the groundbreaking experiment in public health one step closer to fruition. The bill, which the General Assembly will consider in the fall, would make New Jersey the first state to prohibit the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone younger than 21. It is designed to cut teenage exposure to tobacco, since about 90 percent of regular smokers have their first cigarette before turning 18. A few localities, such as New York City and the island of Hawaii, already raised the age.
Raising the smoking age eventually could cause a decline of 30 percent in adult smokers, according to one estimate, but whether it will have such a large effect in New Jersey remains to be seen. New Jersey's current smoking age already prohibits virtually all high schoolers from buying cigarettes. Very few extensive case studies exist now, but the Food and Drug Administration is due to release a report on the effect of a 21- or 25-year-old smoking age next year.
There is no harm in trying. The experiment's success could spur on the District of Columbia, which has a similar bill in committee, and other states that are contemplating the move. The only way the measure can hurt is if it distracts policymakers from implementing more proven prevention strategies, such as higher taxes.