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Making 18- to 21-year-olds provisional legal adults
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California State Sen. Ed Hernandez wants to take rights away from legal adults.

The West Covina Democrat is pushing to increase the legal smoking age in California from 18 to 21.

That would mean an 18-year-old is adult enough to decide whether to put his life at risk to fight the Global War on Terror but not old enough to make a decision to risk his long-term health by smoking.

It’s rich that those who came of age during the Vietnam War where the chants “old enough to kill but not old enough to vote” led to the voting age being lowered from 21 to 18 are now laboring to reduce the rights of those between the ages of 18 and 21.

The gist of what Sen. Hernandez wants to do is noble. He wants to save lives. In California alone, the American Lung Association indicated there are 40,000 deaths annually where smoking cigarettes was a major contributing factor. Researchers contend that raising the smoking age will reduce the number of younger people who illegally start smoking and in turn save lives.

Personally, I find smoking repugnant. I have never smoked and never will.

That said no one should be in favor of creating two classes of voters by curbing the rights of some law-abiding adult citizens who happen to the younger.

It is exactly what California does with alcohol. Well, kind of anyway.

Last year it became legal in California for those 18 to 21 to sip wine and beer in college classes that show them how to make the libations as long as the students spit the wine and beer out after tasting it. Sorry, but if the state has the moral standing to make drinking illegal for legal adults between the ages of 18 and 21 for overriding reasons for the common good then they shouldn’t tempt them or at the very least have taxpayer-funded courses teaching them how to make beer and wine that they can’t legally drink.

It takes convoluted rationale to say on one hand that alcohol is illegal until you’re 21 for you to possess or consume but it’s OK for tax-funded classes to teach you how to make alcohol that’s illegal for you to have or drink. Perhaps next we will have medicinal marijuana grow classes in secondary schools with the legislature granting teens the ability to “toke and blow” so they can sample what they are learning to grow.

Hernandez wants the same august body that legalized “sip and spit” to ratchet up the legal age for smoking.

The state senator’s bill makes 18- to 21-year-olds “provisional” adults much as the DMV makes those under 18 “provisional drivers.”

All legal adults should be empowered with the same rights. They can enter legally-binding contracts, be responsible for debt, marry, and join the military. They should also be allowed to drink and smoke.

Of course, the comeback would be the decision to start drinking and smoking requires making a sound judgment that younger adults may lack. The same can be said of some between 18 and 21 that decide to marry, join the military or obtain a credit card.

If the rationale is young adults between 18 and 21 are not of sound enough mind to make a decision about smoking or drinking – two things that could lead to long-term health problems and an early death, then why are they allowed to join the military before they turn 21? Serving in the military can also lead to long-term health problems and early death.

If an 18-year-old can decide whether to put his life on the line to serve his country, then the rest of us should not say that they aren’t mature enough to decide whether to smoke or drink.

They should be subjected to the same penalties of those who are 21 and older who abuse alcohol or even who smoke.

Smokers are penalized in the form of higher insurance premiums while those who abuse alcohol run the risk of getting the proverbial book thrown at them as well as other consequences.

If people want government to exert its power through law enforcement to penalize some adults for drinking and smoking then they need to go all the way and outlaw both practices by all adults.

No one would propose that due to the massive backlash that would come from adults 21 and older. Yet poll after poll shows the same age group by wide margins – at least 70 percent – think the legal smoking age should be raised to 21.

What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.