Last week Governor Christie signed a bill that will increase the smoking age in New Jersey from 19 to 21 when it goes into effect on November 1 and it has raised a long-standing argument about the age of consent.

New Jersey joins Hawaii and California as states that have raised the age to 21 to purchase tobacco products and Oregon might not be far behind.

Nobody can argue the simple fact that anything which prevents people from smoking will save lives and clearly the goal here is to deter young people, especially teenagers from starting. Statistics show that raising the smoking age to 21 will reduce premature deaths and lung cancer and of course could result in significant savings in health care costs.

About 90 percent of smokers began smoking by the age of 18 and while the new law won’t stop that in New Jersey it will clearly make it tougher as the ban impacts all tobacco-related products including e-cigs.

The new law has not been well-received by convenience store owners and like businesses who insist that they will lose 19 and 20 year old customers who come into their stores to purchase cigarettes but often pick up other items as well.

However the biggest criticism likely comes from those who feel this is just another way for the government to interfere in the lives of citizens who should be free to make their own choices. In other words if someone wants to risk their health by smoking then it’s on them.

Many feel the same about the legal drinking age which is also 21 across the country and of course here in New Jersey was 18 at one point in the 1970’s.  It sparks that age-old argument that if you’re old enough to serve in the military and put your life on the line you should be old enough to drink a beer while smoking a cigarette.

Sometimes that’s hard to argue against but while you might be physically mature at 18 or 19 you are clearly not mentally mature. Young people think their immune from the long-term effects of smoking because they don’t think long-term.  Raising the smoking age from 19 to 21 is not a cure to the problem but it’s a step in the right direction.