Staff Columnist

Tobacco age hike burns hole through 26th Amendment

A man using an electronic cigarette exhales in October 2019 in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. A new federal law signed last mon
A man using an electronic cigarette exhales in October 2019 in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. A new federal law signed last month by President Donald Trump raises the age to purchase all tobacco products to 21. (Tony Dejak/AP)

The bipartisan tizzy over the overblown “youth vaping epidemic” hit new heights last month.

Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed a law increasing the age to purchase all tobacco products — including cigarettes and nicotine vaporizers — to 21. It was attached to a sprawling federal spending package.

Hiking the age to purchase tobacco has been a top goal of the old fuddy duddy caucus in American politics, and they found new allies in the era of concerns over high school students’ use of e-cigarettes and vaporizers, such as the popular Juul brand device.

Advocates’ stated goal is to prevent high school seniors or recent graduates from buying nicotine products for their younger friends.

Even though consumption of combustible tobacco among teenagers and young adults is declining quickly, those products were swept up in the campaign to limit access to e-cigarettes.

Congress saved the Iowa Legislature some trouble by imposing the 21 age threshold nationwide. Lawmakers introduced bills last year to increase the age to buy, and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said during an Iowa Public Television interview last month he would seek to raise the age this session.

News of the federal tobacco reform set off debates about what other age limits we might seek to alter — military service, alcohol, gambling, marriage, porn and other potentially hazardous activities. We were reminded that Trump last year said he would “give very serious thought” to increasing the age to buy rifles to 21, a move most of the nanny statists behind the tobacco age hike probably support.

Proponents of increasing age requirements give little consideration to how their new restrictions might be enforced.

There’s no doubt the impoverished and young people of color would bear the heaviest burden.

This is a frustrating and frivolous discussion because these issues should have been settled 40 years ago.

In light of military drafts last century, Americans debated lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” became a persuasive slogan for the movement, and the ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1971 officially enfranchised 18-year-olds in all state and federal elections.

As far as legal rights are concerned, the 26th Amendment should settle it — 18-year-olds are entitled to the rights and responsibilities of adulthood.

It might be reasonable to grant certain privileges before the voting age — like a graduated driver’s license — but it makes little sense to withhold rights from adults we entrust with participating in democracy. The long-standing 21 drinking age is an affront to the democracy.

If the concern is young people’s decision-making ability, the honest alternative to legal adulthood at 18 would be to repeal the 26th Amendment — increase the age of legal adulthood to 21 or higher, and give the affected citizens special tax protection so they aren’t forced into taxation without representation.

We won’t do that, of course, because we rely on 18-year-olds to work full-time jobs, pay taxes, pay tuition and serve in the military. We demand their labor, but withhold their liberty.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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