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California Raises Smoking Age to 21 to Curb Youth Smoking: A Sample Expository Essay

Following in the footsteps of Hawaii, California has become the newest state to raise the legal smoking age to 21. Hundreds of cities have already passed this ordinance, with many other inhibitory policies enacted to make smoking more difficult, including limitations on where one can smoke, and raising the cost of a pack of cigarettes. The motivations to do this are simple: smoking kills, nicotine is the most addictive substance known to man, and the impressionability of youth must be protected.

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Raising the smoking age to 21 to curb youth smoking

This bill makes it illegal for anyone but active military personnel (over 18) under the age of 21 to buy or use cigarettes in the hope that fewer young people will start down the path to addiction. Active military personnel are excluded. The rational is that if a person can fight for the nation they should have the freedom to smoke if they choose. Author of the bill, Ed Hernandez celebrated this victory with comments emphasize the bill will save money and lives.

However, more than just the tobacco lobby are upset by this bill, as it also reclassified vapor products as tobacco, and placed new regulations on the product. But the fact remains, how how e-cigarettes affect the lungs long-term is still unknown and the chemical cocktail in that form of smoking is potentially dangerous. Supporting this change, “A study from the Institute of Medicine estimates that setting the minimum age at 21 nationwide, would result in nearly a quarter-million fewer premature deaths and 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer among people born between 2000 and 2019” (Berlinger). California has often been a leader for nationwide referendums on matters of public health, and this may be the newest push.

The big business of addiction and youth smoking

As stated in another Ultius sample essay about extinguishing a smoker’s behavior, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to mankind, it is extremely difficult to stop smoking once begun (Blakeslee). Adolescents and young adults are the most prone to manipulative media, and the least concerned about the prospect of death, which makes them ideal “replacement” customers. While the tobacco industry is a hugely lucrative business, it has the unfortunate side effect of killing off its customer base. The term “replacement customers” has come to mean that a new stock of consumers may eventually become addicted and die. While this should be entirely illegal,

According to The Tobacco Atlas, estimates of revenues from the global tobacco industry likely approach a half trillion U.S. dollars annually. In 2010, the combined profits of the six leading tobacco companies was U.S. $35.1 billion, equal to the combined profits of Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and McDonald’s in the same year. If Big Tobacco were a country, it would have a gross domestic product (GDP) of countries like Poland, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Venezuela. (World Lung Foundation)

Smoking causes an estimated average of six million deaths per year. There are also reports of second hand smoke causing an estimated average of 600,000 deaths a year. This unbelievable injustice is all for the lust of profit, which deems all human life expendable. This means, “If trends continue, one billion people will die from tobacco use and exposure during the 21st century – one person every six seconds” (World Lung Foundation). The new movement to keep youths from smoking is intended to undercut the replacement customer base, and has the tobacco industry, and companies like Phillip-Morris USA infuriated.

Legislation battling youth smoking

Author of the California bill, Sen. Ed Hernandez (D) commented on how imperative it is to raise awareness about the manipulative tactics of big tobacco, and protect the youth. He comments, “The fierce opposition from Big Tobacco on this measure proves just how important this law is and how much their business model relies on targeting our kids” (The Associated Press). However, around the world children are not actively being protected by their governments. A youth smoking epidemic has broken out in the Philippines and Nepal where big tobacco continues to advertise to, and even distribute cigarettes to children.

Along with aggressive advertising, the tobacco industry makes cigarettes the cheapest where education and regulations are the lowest. The cheapest cigarettes are in Zimbabwe at $0.60, next in the Philippines at $0.80, which is tied with Hunan, China, and in Pakistan at $1 (Aquino). Meanwhile in Australia a pack costs between $20-$25 dollars with efforts to double that by 2020 (Borello). While consumption of tobacco fluctuates in the U.S. based on price or taxes, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Australia. The Australian government believes this would cut back on consumption, despite an overwhelmingly negative response of smokers saying a price increase would not deter them from smoking. Aussie smokers conceded they would just pay more (Borello). This insane reality begs the question of why people will pay to undermine their health and shorten their lives?

The psychology behind youth smoking

One reason big tobacco is so successful in enticing people to smoke is because of lies in advertising. People susceptible to these lies are prone to delusion. The reality is knowing the advertiser’s abuse as they misrepresent their product, often using stereotypes to sell their product. Many people feel hemmed in by the confines of contemporary society, such as the trifecta of wage stagnation, inflation, and planned obsolescence. Understanding this deep seated frustration, the tobacco industry misrepresents how smoking can help people overcome their frustrations. Such lies are: Smoking makes you cool; Smoking is sexy; If you smoke you are a rebel; Smoking is relaxing. The only thing relaxing about smoking is the release from the addictive nagging and tremors of need a nicotine craving creates. While there are many psychological triggers for smoking they are all based on fundamental delusion. One of the most prominent of these is Nihilism, the belief that life is ultimately meaningless, and so it does not matter what you do.

Rationally however, this still does not pan out. For if it were true that life is meaningless why not enjoy it to the fullest before giving up the ghost? Smoking severely dulls a person’s sense of taste and smell so that they cannot fully enjoy their senses, not to mention inhibits the functioning of nearly all major organs before giving way to cancer. While big tobacco may take advantage of underdeveloped countries who may not be as informed about the dangers of smoking, developed nations still smoke, fully aware of the affect of tobacco use on the human body. However, there is a difference between knowing the risks and believing those risks are a person’s destiny, and therein lies the space for delusion. The willingness to gamble one’s life on a dare of pleasure is the root of many addictions.

Talking to youths about smoking

Counselor Alex Lickerman asks every one of his new patients if they smoke. He understands smoking may be a symptom of mental illness which plague warped psyches. He has come to realize an alarming number of western-hemisphere patients do not adequately know the risks, do not identify those risks of smoking with themselves. Western culture suffers from an over-identification with the left brain which leads to over-intellectualizing rather than taking right action. Big tobacco takes advantage of this deep seated need to stop aimless ruminating and do something, through enticing the repressed to take action and reach for a cigarette. Lickerman knows that information does not create change, but how much someone really believes the information does. He reports, “some people can digest intellectual knowledge and translate it into deep and motivating belief, belief they must change their behavior despite all the obstacles—and some simply can’t. Specifically, with regard to smokers, 98 out of every 100 can’t” (Lickerman). However, some believe when dealing with addiction, use of the word “can’t” is unacceptable, and should be substituted with the word “won’t.”

A common belief is that addiction is a disease and should be treated as such. It is not. Addiction is a series of choices which eventually become automatic, overriding individual willpower. The reason why so much rehabilitation fails is because only the addicted individual can choose to change their behavior, and no amount of treatment can entice such a choice. The longer it is put off, the greater the disempowerment of an individual’s will becomes. An addict becomes less capable of any change, enthralled as they are to the choice-less choice of addiction. This is not simply chemical, but holistically engaging every aspect of the individual. The chemical buzz from the act of smoking is related to all the beliefs, social norms, repressions, and urges which the act is associated with. When this mishmash of motivation/action is fueled by delusion, it undermines the very tool which could unravel the chaos, the human mind. While big tobacco and their media machine understand this perfectly, it appears that rehabilitation facilities do not. There is no gimmick to entice one back to sanity.

Health dangers of youth smoking

Cigarettes could be manufactured to be less deadly, but that would be more expensive to the industry. Rather than limit their profit margins, the rates of death caused by their product is deemed acceptable. That is, unless they were running short of replacement customers. The average cigarette has over 600 ingredients, but due to the chemical reaction caused by burning, over 7,000 chemicals are created. While 69 are known to be carcinogens, many are poisonous, the real number is likely much higher. The effects of these chemicals on the human body, especially during fetal development are notoriously underfunded aspects of this study. Some of the chemicals in cigarettes and where else they can be found are listed here:

  • Acetone – found in nail polish remover
  • Acetic Acid – an ingredient in hair dye
  • Ammonia – a common household cleaner
  • Arsenic – used in rat poison
  • Benzene – found in rubber cement
  • Butane – used in lighter fluid
  • Cadmium – active component in battery acid
  • Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes
  • Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
  • Hexamine – found in barbecue lighter fluid
  • Lead – used in batteries
  • Naphthalene – an ingredient in mothballs
  • Methanol – a main component in rocket fuel
  • Nicotine – used as insecticide
  • Tar – material for paving roads


While this California bill presents one victory, the need for it represents a startling lapse in the accountability of corporations in today’s world. It appears that the value of human life is in steady decline as the profiteering becomes more streamlined in a boom population.

Works Cited

American Lung Association. “What’s in a cigarette?”

Berlinger, Joshua. “California raises smoking age to 21.” CNN, 5 May 2016.

Blakeslee, Sandra. “Nicotine: Harder to Kick…Than Heroin.” The New York Times, 29 Mar. 1987.

Borrello, Eliza. “Packet of 25 cigarettes to cost more than $40 by 2020 under Labor.” ABC, 23 Nov. 2015.

CDC. “Tobacco-Related Morality.”, n.d.

The Associated Free Press. “California raises smoking age to 21.”, 6 May 2016.

Tobacco Free CA. “’Replacement’ Customers.”, n.d.

World Lung Foundation. “New Tobacco Atlas Estimates U.S. $35 Billion Tobacco Industry Profits and Almost 6 Million Annual Deaths.”, n.d.

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