I'm not a smoker, nor have I ever smoked (not even to "try it out"). My parents weren't smokers. None of my grandparents smoked (although I'm told that one of my grandfathers smoked until sometime in the '40's, when my mom and aunt were diagnosed with mild asthma, and he quit). I've had friends who smoke, but they don't smoke in my house, and to the best of my knowledge (but moms don't know everything), my kids haven't smoked (or at least gone beyond an "experimental" puff)--I think I'd smell it on them. My husband doesn't smoke, and both he and I have occasionally been in the presence of people who have been smoking, and we can always smell it on the other when they walk in the door.
All that is to say this: I think smoking is a bad habit. I think it's bad for you, and probably bad for the people who live with you if they have to be in close proximity to it. And...I don't think I (or the government) should have a thing to say about whether an adult can smoke.
Today's Lincoln Journal Star suggests that local retailers are in a bit of a conundrum. Nebraska law recently raised the age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 19. The feds recently raised it to 21. But local law enforcement can't enforce penalties on individuals making sales unless it is a violation of state law (hence, technically 19 and 20-year-olds could be sold cigarettes, and the person who sells them could not be prosecuted). Typically, state laws in these areas will be adjusted to reflect the federal law, but since the legislature isn't in session for a few more weeks, even with an emergency clause attached, it's likely to be the end of January before state law could comply with federal law in this area.
Here's my question, though: Should the age to purchase cigarettes be 21?
Some will argue that a teen brain isn't well enough developed until at least 21, so they shouldn't be allowed to make that decision for their well-being until they reach that age. But isn't that inconsistent related to what we think about other things? For instance, in all but 3 of the 50 states, the age of majority is 18. In other words, you can be held legally liable for decisions you make, contracts you sign, tried as an adult for crimes, etc. The exceptions to that "rule of 18"? Nebraska (19), Alabama (19) and Mississippi (21). So only one state says that you aren't responsible for your actions until you're 21.
EXCEPT, we let people join the military (nationwide) at 18 without parental consent (17 with parental consent). That seems like a pretty significant decision.
We also let college students (most underclassmen are under the age of 21) sign for thousands of dollars of student loans which we've been told is something akin to a crisis and having a negative impact on peoples' lives for decades.
Is consistency too much to ask? It seems to me that we're telling young people that they're old enough to be taken advantage of to fight and die in the service of their country; and that they're old enough to sign away their lives through federally guaranteed student loans. But they're not old enough to decide what adult-legal substances to put into their bodies.
If we want a world with more freedom, then maybe we ought to ask how much the government should be able to set up these arbitrary age limits--allowing people to be treated as adults (if it benefits the government) in some instances, and children in others.