The Sunday Times says

Dodging grip of a stubborn addiction

The proposal to raise the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 addresses teen vulnerability to a pernicious form of addiction with far-reaching consequences. The logic of the move is based on the reality of almost half of smokers beginning to smoke regularly between the ages of 18 and 21. Many underestimate the effect of a smoked cigarette - nicotine reaches the brain in as little as seven seconds after inhalation - and consequently become hooked before they know it. With the average age of first contact with tobacco dropping from 17 in 2001 to 16 in 2013, this is not an issue one can sweep under the carpet.

The usual counter to raising the legal smoking age is the seeming contradiction of asking someone to defend the nation from the age of 18, while treating the teen soldier "as a child" when it comes to smoking. But it is precisely because national servicemen are valued highly that steps have to be taken to protect their lives. Addiction to tobacco kills more than seven million people prematurely every year and up to half of its users over time, as the World Health Organisation noted this year. It continues to deem "the tobacco epidemic" one of the biggest public health threats "the world has ever faced".

Given the persistence of tobacco addiction, some might take a cynical view of education, training and public awareness efforts to curb the scourge. But these have made a difference in many places. In New Zealand, the number of 14 and 15 year-olds who smoked at least monthly fell from 15 per cent in 2000 to 2.5 per cent in 2015. And in a US town called Needham, smoking rates among teens below 18 fell from 13 per cent in 2006 to 7 per cent four years later - attributed to the lifting of the age limit from 18 to 21 in 2005.

Of course, it takes more than a law to rein in risky teenage behaviour. Society as a whole must help to shield youth from the curse of addiction.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 08, 2017, with the headline 'Dodging grip of a stubborn addiction'. Print Edition | Subscribe