Some Walpolians may recall a few years back when the Walpole Board of Health banned the sale of tobacco in pharmacies. This included local CVS, Big Y, Stop & Shop, and Walmart stores. It irked certain people who felt their right to choose whether they can smoke or not was being tinkered with and people worried what they would restrict next. Well, they weren’t wrong in worrying. Two years have passed and the Board of Health is at it again, working to raise the age limit to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.
The man behind it this time around is Dr. Lester Hartman, a physician at Westwood Mansfield Pediatrics, whom has asked Walpole and many other nearby towns to higher their tobacco age limits. These proposals strive to prevent children from developing an addiction to cigarettes during the prime period of time when smoking habits form; the teenage years. This is an agreeable observation—its not common to see someone of 30 years old picking up a pack of cigarettes for the first time. Its the 14, 15, and 16 year olds. So if we’re talking about “children” here, how could changing the tobacco age limit from 18 to 21 affect kids who typically begin smoking at a younger age than 18 or 21 anyway? The local change would not even target the intended age group.
Whether or not the legal age limit is 18 or 21, and even if it becomes harder to find cigarettes if the age limit changes, kids will still hunt them down somehow especially if a true addiction has formed. Let’s not forget that kids can go a town over to buy cigarettes in Norwood or some other town. Nearly everyone in the world has defied the law in some minor way, especially teenagers, so it would be more effective to take a different approach, other than restricting their right to choose whether or not they want to smoke as a “legal adult” at the age of 18. Teens will most likely not abide by this law if many of them don’t abide by it currently.
Instead of trying to control the people, the way to create a change is to inform them. All of the angsty little teenagers will want to defy the law anyway, and a raise in the age limit will probably only excite them even more. In most cases, its easy to argue that many kids start smoking because they think it’s cool and it’s what everybody else is doing. However cliche that may sound, its blatantly what drives them to begin such a nasty habit. The community must make the children think this isn’t what everybody else is doing and that it isn’t cool. The Board of Health or any other volunteers in the community should focus on just how many people don’t smoke, or maybe even make the teenagers smoking feel alienated, as if it’s uncommon. They surely won’t want to conform any longer.
Whether or not the community wants to take that approach, it’s more effective than trying to influence the right to choose whether or not someone wants to smoke cigarettes. It harms no one except the smoker, especially with the second-hand smoke laws in place, therefore they should have the right to decide if they want to destroy their body. It may sound a little ridiculous, but that right should not be inflicted upon by others unless it is harmful to the community. Controlling people’s deserved rights only angers them, causing rebellion.
Not only will the change be unfair, but local police will have to enforce these laws now too. Anyone who is 18, 19, or 20 is clearly not going to stop smoking if the law is implemented, and would be at risk of getting in trouble for smoking when they would not have before. Think of how ridiculous that sounds—20 year old adults who are not allowed to smoke in Walpole.
On January 8th they will be holding a public hearing for the age limit change. The public will most likely not react positively to the proposal. The Board of Health’s mission is to promote good public health, not to restrict the rights of people who the federal system has granted permission to smoke. What’s next, restricting the right to buy junk food? Smoking is obviously unhealthy, but so are a lot of things. If they Board of Health thinks that they can prevent smoking at an early age, they are mistaken, especially by doing it with these laws. Even the Board is divided on the issue, some believing that the law isn’t going to change anything. If the law does pass, the community and the Board will quickly learn that it does not bring any of their desired changes.