Starting Jan. 1, it will be illegal in Oregon to sell tobacco to anyone younger than 21. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Smoking kills people, and if changing the law makes it more difficult for young people to get their hands on tobacco, that’s great.
That said, the law has a problem. It makes insufficient allowance for those between 18 and 21 who may be able to buy tobacco and will have that privilege stripped from them. Lawmakers should make it legal for those young smokers to continue to buy tobacco products, during the 2018 short legislative session.
This is not as big a step as it may seem. The law, approved by the 2017 Legislature, makes some allowance for that group. While it will be illegal for a merchant or any other adult to sell cigarettes to 18- to 21-year-olds, the law does not make it illegal for a person between 18 and 21 to possess tobacco. By contrast, state law prohibits the sale of alcohol to those under 21; it also makes it illegal for them to possess the stuff.
In a perfect world, there would be no legally sanctioned smokers among Oregonians between the ages of 18 and 21, but this is not a perfect world. And uncomfortable as the idea makes us, it’s not right to take away the right of those who are allowed to buy tobacco now.
Many of them presumably are addicted. And it is cruel and inconsistent to decide, on the one hand, that they may possess and use tobacco while decreeing, on the other, that they may not buy it.
In other instances, laws have allowed those doing something to continue doing so, while barring newcomers from following suit.
That’s what should happen with tobacco: People currently 18 or older should be allowed to continue buying tobacco, while those who will turn 18 after Jan. 1 should not.