This week, the Texas Senate is considering legislation to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. It is an interesting subject to consider, and there is an emotionally compelling case for prohibiting young adults from engaging in behavior that is well-demonstrated to be unhealthy.
Emotional arguments notwithstanding, it is our view that this is bad and unprincipled public policy. We should not make laws based on emotional feelings but on principles rooted in a traditional understanding of the role of limited government and the concepts of individual liberty and personal responsibility for adults in a free society.
Adults and children have always been treated differently under the law. Our society and our laws recognize that children are neither mature enough nor experienced enough to make their own choices. This is why parents teach, mentor, and guide their children into adulthood and hope that by the time their children reach the age of majority, they are well-trained to make wise decisions in their own capacity.
Our laws recognize that children are incapable of making meaningful decisions about serious issues which is why we have a separate justice system for juveniles and why we prohibit juveniles from engaging in certain adult behaviors. We do not allow children to make significant adult decisions until they reach the age of majority. We regulate the sexual activity of juveniles, we prohibit them from voting, holding elective office, getting married without parental consent, signing enforceable contracts, or going off to war. But once children reach the age of majority, we consider them adults for these purposes and more. The age of majority in Texas is 18.
Consider this juxtaposition if SB 21 passes raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21: Our laws will tell 18, 19, and 20 year old Texans that we will deny them the ability to buy tobacco products because they are not old enough or mature enough to make that choice, but if those same Texans steal tobacco products we will try and convict them as adults and incarcerate them in adult prisons.
This is abjectly incoherent and ill-conceived public policy which should be soundly rejected.
If the Texas legislature wishes to revise the age of majority for the purposes of purchasing tobacco, it should do so for the other things as well. If a person is a child for the purpose of buying tobacco, that same person should be treated as a child for the purposes of interacting with the criminal justice system, signing enforceable contracts, voting for our elected leaders, or making other life-altering decisions such as getting married, taking on debt, or going off to war.
We encourage the Texas legislature to reject this attempt to infantilize young adults by taking away their ability to make certain adult decisions while still being subject to adult consequences for their actions.