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What Happened When a Town Raised the Smoking Age

06/23/2015 12:18 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

By Morgan Jones, dailyRx News Reporter

The legal age for drinking in the U.S. is 21, but should it be the same for smoking cigarettes? Some experts are saying it should after seeing the effects in one Massachusetts town.

"In April of 2005, Needham, Massachusetts became the first town in the USA to raise the minimum tobacco sales age to 21," wrote the authors of a new study, led by Shari K. Schneider, of Education Development Center, Inc., in Waltham, MA.

Schneider and team explained in a new study on the recent events in Needham that some experts think that such policy changes could help reduce youth smoking and prevent addiction later in life.

To explore the law's effect on teen smoking, these researchers looked at data from the 2006 to 2012 MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey of high school students. The survey of over 16,000 students took place every other year in communities west of Boston, including Needham.

When compared to 16 surrounding communities with a minimum tobacco sales age of 18, Needham saw a greater drop in teen smoking and teen tobacco purchases after the minimum tobacco sales age was raised.

In 2006, 12.9 percent of the students in Needham reported "current smoking" -- smoking in the previous 30 days. That rate dropped to 6.7 percent by 2010. This decrease was larger than the one seen in surrounding communities, where the average rate only fell from 14.8 percent to 12 percent.

By 2012, 5.5 percent of students in Needham reported current smoking, as did 8.5 percent of students in surrounding communities.

Needham also saw a greater decline in the rate of teens under age 18 who said they bought cigarettes in stores. A drop from 18.4 percent in 2006 to 11.6 percent in 2012 was seen in Needham, compared to the drop from 19.4 percent in 2006 to only 19 percent in 2012 in the surrounding communities.

"These findings support local community-level action to raise the tobacco sales age to 21," Schneider and team wrote.

This study was published online June 12 in the journal Tobacco Control.

The MetroWest Health Foundation funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

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