In which aspects of daily life should government be involved, and to what extent?

Since the formation of the United States, that question has been at the heart of our politics. Many view government as an impediment to economic growth and individual liberty. Many others see it as a force that can improve people’s lives and level the playing field.

Any number of issues may be viewed through this lens, and despite the intense polarization of our times, we know that reasonable and well-meaning people can disagree.

In some instances, however, it is extremely clear what is right. A new push to raise Rhode Island’s minimum age at which people may purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, we believe, is one of those cases.

State Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) and state Sen. Cynthia Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) have filed legislation in their respective chambers of the General Assembly to increase the age limit for tobacco. They have done so in prior years as well.

According to the lawmakers, Rhode Island would become the third state – after Hawaii and California – to increase the tobacco age to 21. A number of municipalities – including Central Falls and Barrington, as well as cities like Boston and New York – have passed ordinances to raise the age limit.

As supporters of the increased age limit note, many tobacco users start at a young age. As Tanzi and Coyne’s statement notes, nine out of 10 adult smokers started before turning 21.

We all know the calamitous health effects of smoking and tobacco use. Each year, the deaths of approximately 480,000 Americans, and 1,800 Rhode Islanders, are attributed to tobacco. As we also know, second-hand smoke extends the risks beyond those making the choice to use tobacco.

Alcohol – which carries similar risks, and has a more immediate effect – is already restricted to those over the age of 21. Does it not make sense that we should place the same restriction upon both substances?

We fully support the raising of the age to purchase tobacco products. Doing so would not take away anyone’s right to use tobacco. It would, however, reduce the chances of young people becoming lifetime users. The good, in this case, vastly outweighs any other considerations. It is simply the right thing to do.

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