Smoking age of 21 a sign of enlightened age, caring for Texas young

Have you ever noticed how much smoking there is in black-and-white movies? Hollywood’s Golden-Age actors made it seem so glamorous and natural.

Vintage cigarette ads also are simply horrifying through today’s enlightened lens: Doctors promising that this brand is healthier or less “irritating” than others. Smoking as relief from asthma, bronchitis and shortness of breath. Even a British cartoon of bemused parents watching a small child light one up for a post-World War I veterans’ home fundraiser.

Thank the heavens we’re telling our young a much different story today.

Yet, far too many young take up smoking and become the roughly 1-in-5 adults doing it — the ill-effects of which are both legion and legend. Over 400,000 dead and 8 million debilitated each year. Myriad chronic diseases. One study says unemployed smokers even find it harder to get a job than nonsmokers, and earn less when they do.

“Vaping” — inhaling the hazardous vapors of e-cigarettes — has become epidemic in high schools and even middle schools, with incidence of it rising 78 percent nationally last year.

In the midst of all this, there’s a growing movement nationwide to ban the purchase or use of tobacco products until age 21, instead of the current 18. About a dozen states have done it; Congress is talking about it; and Texas lawmakers are on the cusp of it.

Considering the fact that high-schoolers and even middle-schoolers have been vaping and smoking, legal prohibitions against it aren’t a magic bullet against youth smoking. Indeed, 80 percent to 90 percent of adult smokers start prior to age 18, regardless of the current law.

But tightening up access to smokes can’t hurt, and may help — and may even save lives. The Centers for Disease Control touts a raise in the smoking age as one of several efforts that “have been shown to reduce and prevent youth tobacco product use when implemented together.” Others include high taxes on tobacco products and smoking bans in workplaces and public places.

“In Texas, 10,400 kids become daily smokers every year. And one-third of them will die prematurely as a result,” says Texas 21, a coalition promoting the rise in the smoking age. The bill has cleared the state Senate as well as a House committee, and awaits its fate in the full House.

We support the bill. We’re not altogether comfortable with its exempting members of the military. We understand the reasons for the exemption, as young military members may move from state to state and be subjected to a confusing patchwork of smoking ages. But where one can smoke varies too, and servicemen and servicewomen must adapt there as well. Plus, if raising the smoking age is for the benefit of our young, why would we not throw that blanket of protection over our young in the military?

Still, that provision is not a deal-breaker. If the higher smoking age saves one life, it’s worth it.

We would simply urge our state and local leaders to realize this law alone isn’t enough. Authorities need to crack down, and crack down hard, on cigarette and e-cigarette purveyors who knowingly sell to minors — often at inflated, black-market rates. They are little better than the pusher on the playground, and they’re nudging our kids to perhaps lifelong addiction behind our back.

And though we should always enact such restrictions reluctantly, 21 — like today’s discerning views on smoking — needs to be an age of enlightenment.