According to a new study by the Institute of Medicine, raising the minimum legal age of access to tobacco products could prevent or delay tobacco use in adolescents.

The Federal Drug Administration commissioned the study, which included contributions from two University researchers: Rafael Meza, assistant professor of Epidemiology, and Patrick O’Malley, a research professor at the Institute for Social Research.

The study concluded that if the minimum age was raised nationally, underage adolescent tobacco use would decrease. It recommended that the minimum age be 21 years old, which would lead to a 12 percent reduction in tobacco prevalence by 2100.

“First of all, what we found is raising the minimum legal age for access would lead to significant health benefits,” Meza said.

Meza said the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 gave the FDA control over tobacco regulations, but did not grant it the authority to determine the minimum purchasing age for tobacco products.

Congress had previously ordered the FDA to provide a report regarding the health implications of raising the minimum age by April 2015.

As a result, Meza added, the responsibility to decide legal purchasing age is left to individual states — the majority of which have kept their minimum at 18 years old. If the FDA can prove significant health benefits will result from raising the age, Congress may become more open to giving the FDA authority in the matter.

The study shows that the age group most impacted by raising the minimum legal purchasing age would be adolescents aged 15 to 17.

“The initiation age of tobacco use is critical. Among adults who become daily smokers, approximately 90 percent report first use of cigarettes before reaching 19 years of age, and almost 100 percent report first use before age 26,” the study says.

Meza explained that raising the minimum purchasing age would lower initiation rates for teenagers.

“If the age was raised that would limit their access,” Meza said. “So right now, any high schooler has access to a senior that is of the age. So if you raise it to 21, that will limit their social sources.”

The committee used statistical models for testing the effects of smoking to further expand upon the health risks associated with tobacco use.

First-year medical student Stephan Diljak said he recognizes the serious health consequences associated with tobacco use, and thinks raising the minimum legal age would have benefits.

“Personally, I believe in the data that less people could suffer from complications or potentially die if the age in which they are potentially allowed to purchase tobacco was raised,” he said.

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