A new study has found a simple way to significantly reduce teenage smoking: raise the tobacco sales age to 21. In 2005, Needham, Massachusetts, did just that, while surrounding communities kept their age limit at 18.
Researchers surveyed 16,000 high school students in Needham and 16 surrounding communities four times from 2006 to 2012, gathering data on their smoking habits. The study is in Tobacco Control.
Over the seven years, the number of children younger than 18 buying cigarettes in Needham decreased to 11.6 percent from 18.4 percent, while in the surrounding communities, it hardly changed - down to 19 percent from 19.4.
In 2006, 12.9 percent of students in Needham and 14.8 percent of students in surrounding communities reported having smoked in the past 30 days. By 2010, 6.7 percent of Needham students reported smoking, compared with 12 percent in other towns. At the end of the study in 2012, smoking had declined to 5.5 percent in Needham and 8.5 percent outside.
“More than 80 percent of smokers begin before 18,” said the lead author, Shari Kessel Schneider, the project director at the Education Development Center in Waltham, Massachusetts.
“Our findings provide strong support for initiatives going on all across the country to increase the sales age as a means for decreasing youth access to cigarettes, initiation of smoking, and ultimately addiction.”