Friday, May 12, 2006

Picking on Young Adults

Yet another plan to disenfranchise young adults is making its way through the halls of power in New York State. According an article on NY1, a bill making its way through the New York State Assembly is attempting to raise the smoking age to 19. The rationale behind the bill is that "it will stop thousands of people under the age of 18 from becoming regular smokers."

First of all, it's rather remarkable that the New York State Legislature doesn't have more important things to think about, like problems related to crime and homelessness—problems that the state has made some strides against in recent decades, but that hardly seem pristine, except by American standards.

NY1 also reports that "[s]moking rights groups say it's an attempt by government to control their lives. " Of course, given the state's rather restrictive laws concerning smoking, it's no surprise that smoking rights groups exist. However, one has to wonder why only "smoking rights" groups should be concerned. What this comes down to is another attempt by the state to regulate the behavior of people whose behavior simply shouldn't be regulated; this is a problem that anybody who worries about state control of people's lives should be concerned about.

Given the stated rationale that the state has an interest in preventing people under the age of 18 from smoking, taking away the rights of people who aren't part of the class of people the state is concerned about is the wrong way to attack this problem. 18-year-olds are decidedly adults in the sense that they can vote, own guns, marry, join the military, and sign contracts. They should not have their rights, even rights that maybe aren't "healthy," taken away just because the state wants to prevent those 17 and under from smoking.

A major issue facing young adults in America is that they're easy to pick on. Though regarded as adults under the law, they're looked down upon as children in many ways. After spending years in the American education system, they aren't very mature by the time they graduate high school. Because they don't vote in the same numbers as older people, politicians don't fear them the way they fear outspoken, overzealous suburban middle-aged parents. It was easy to take away the right of those under 21 to drink, not even two decades after a constitutional amendment gave them the inalienable right to vote. The idea behind the 21 minimum age on drinking was allegedly to stem drunk driving, but if that is indeed true, they probably would have set a driving age limit of 21.

So who should stop those under the age of 18 from becoming regular smokers? Preferably, the parents of people under the age of 18. Children should be taught from early on that smoking is a bad thing. A few simple photos of the lungs of regular smokers should prove this adequately.

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