I have a long history of working in tobacco prevention and control in North Dakota, and recently I’ve had many ask about the new age 21 tobacco legislation.

Here’s what I can tell you based on what I know:

Although tobacco initiation is a “choice,” the addiction rate is over 90% (alcohol by comparison is 8-14%). Death rates are over five times higher than alcohol, too, with 480,000 vs about 88,000 annually. Most with nicotine addiction are addicted by age 18.

Tobacco-related diseases are incredibly expensive to society. In North Dakota alone, we spend about $350,000,000 a year. No, smokers don’t pay for themselves with taxes — not even close. North Dakota only takes in about $15-20 million a year in tobacco tax.

Almost all of this is data is easy to find. The CDC maintains a large database, as does the U.S. surgeon general, University California-San Francisco (especially Dr. Stanton Glantz), and Mayo Clinic's nicotine addiction treatment center.

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The thinking is that increasing the age of purchase to 21 will lower addiction rates. Now, I’ll admit the evidence is preliminary for this, though it’s hard to imagine a downside. We know regulation works. In 1965, 41% of all adults smoked. Today, it's about 17%, almost all due to increasing regulatory environment and better education for the public.

We don’t know yet what the final impact will be, because it takes years to assemble evidence-based data. Smoking rates have been declining, and raising the age will help continue that trend.

Anything we can do to keep young people from getting addicted is worth trying.