Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Do Minimum Legal Tobacco Purchase Age Laws Work?

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Do Minimum Legal Tobacco Purchase Age Laws Work?

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Smoking is identified as a major cause of a wide variety of health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and several different forms of cancer. The U.S. Surgeon General's report (2014) states that smoking is the leading cause of preventable and premature death and smoking harms nearly every major organ of the body, often in profound ways, causing many diseases and significantly diminishing the health of smokers in general. Furthermore, compared with nonsmokers, smokers are more prone to illness and more likely to reach exhaustion. Empirical literature also documents that smoking has a significant impact on other health related outcomes such as mental illness or obesity. (1) Through its depressant effects on health, smoking might also have substantive negative spillover effects on economic outcomes, including several labor market outcomes such as income, productivity, and wages. (2) Given these direct and indirect effects of smoking, evaluating the effectiveness of the policies that are used to regulate smoking behavior is vital.

Several recent studies have documented that policies that increase the cost of smoking such as raising taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products and imposing public smoking bans significantly reduce smoking participation and may have positive spillover effects on smoking-related outcomes. For instance, DeCicca and McLeod (2008) find that higher taxes reduce smoking participation by older adults, especially those who are less educated and live in low-income households. Carpenter and Cook (2008) show that tobacco tax increases are associated with significant reductions in smoking participation and frequent smoking by youths. Using rich longitudinal data from the German Socioeconomic Panel Study, Anger, Kvasnicka, and Siedler (2011) investigate the impact of public smoking bans on smoking behavior. They find that individuals who go out more often to bars and restaurants adjust their smoking behavior as a response to a public smoking ban and as a result, they become less likely to smoke and also smoke less. On the other hand, Carpenter. Postolek, and Warman (2011) find that public-place smoking laws are effective tools at reducing nonsmokers' and smokers' exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in a variety of public places on a broad, population-wide scale.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around 92% of cigarette smokers started smoking at or before age 18. As a natural consequence, sales of tobacco products to minors are heavily regulated in the United States. For instance, recently, several states enacted laws that prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and indoor use of electronic cigarettes (Marynak et al. 2014). On the other hand, probably the most direct form of regulation on smoking behavior among youth in the United States is imposing a minimum legal cigarette and tobacco products purchase age (hereafter, MLTPA). Although MLTPA is 18 in most states, there are a few states that impose a higher MLTPA. (3) Understanding the effect of the MLTPA is particularly important not only because smoking has been linked to several undesirable health and economic outcomes, but also increasing the MLTPA from 18 to 19 or 21 is a current policy debate in many states. Proponents of a higher MLTPA argue that increasing the legal age for tobacco sales will make it difficult for younger teens, such as 16-year-olds, to get cigarettes since younger teens typically know a lot more 18-year-olds than 21-year-olds who might buy them cigarettes. However, opponents of a higher MLTPA argue that there is no sufficient evidence to support that raising the age for being able to buy tobacco products has any real effect on keeping young adults away from tobacco products.

Although several studies have investigated the effect of the MLTPA laws on smoking habits of young adults, most of them have made use of the changes in the MLTPA laws that occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s at the state level. …

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