Most people would probably agree that tobacco smoking is bad, and that it is worthwhile to try to reduce its prevalence. But the recent trend toward raising the legal minimum age for purchase from 18 to 21 is the wrong approach.

One indicator of officially sanctioned ageism is policymakers’ willingness to artificially increase the length of legal “childhood” to meet unrelated policy goals. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a smaller proportion of those ages 18-24 smoke than those ages 25-64.

The CDC says that nearly twice as many Americans below the poverty level smoke as those above it. Perhaps we should legislate a minimum income to buy cigarettes?

The CDC also says Americans whose highest level of education is a high school diploma are nearly four times as likely to smoke as those who graduated college. Maybe we should require proof of a bachelor’s degree to buy cigarettes?

The CDC additionally says that those in the South are more likely to smoke than those who live elsewhere. Maybe the right to smoke should be repealed in certain states?

All of these suggestions are silly — but they are more rooted in actual statistics than the arguments for raising the legal purchase age. Once again, ageism is too easily overlooked by policymakers looking for a quick fix.

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