Monday, June 03, 2002

no smoking? Looks like my soon-to-be home is at it again. California is trying to raise its smoking age to 21:
National studies have shown that most people begin smoking before 18, while those who reach 21 without becoming smokers are very unlikely to ever take up the habit.
Well, if the legal smoking age is now 18, and most people [most smokers?] begin before 18, one might conclude that legality is not such a big factor in deciding whether to start smoking. This alone should make one question the efficacy of trying to curb smoking by raising the legal age. (Reuters seems not to find this possibility worth commenting on.) But even if the studies showed that most people began smoking between 18 and 21, it would still be reckless to conclude that raising the legal age would curb smoking rates. To see why, consider the following two hypotheses: (A) Most people who don't start smoking by age 21 will never start smoking. (B) Most people who don't start smoking within 3 years after they "turn legal" will never start smoking. Evidence that people who don't smoke by age 21 will never smoke is insufficient to favor one hypothesis over the other. And while in the first case a rise in the smoking age certainly would cut down the number of new smokers, in the second case new smokers would only be briefly delayed from picking up the habit. (The second, incidentally, strikes me as the more plausible, though that's based on nothing more than intuition.) Now, as a cranky economist, I'm inclined to believe that people who chose to smoke know what they're doing, and that it's not the government's job (or anyone else's) to second-guess them. Second-guessing them using flawed reasoning is even worse. Update - Hey, what do you know?
"Laws that prohibit merchants from selling cigarettes to minors have not helped to reduce rates of teenage smoking in the US and should therefore be abandoned, researchers conclude."

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