The idea is simple: no one born in or after 2000 can ever be sold cigarettes. Under such legislation, which jurisdictions like the Australian state of Tasmania are considering, the vast majority of this cohort — the oldest are now 13 — would never begin smoking. It’s hard to imagine too many parents objecting, and it would be easy for retailers to enforce. In the United States, it would provide a useful focus for state and local public health officials to do something game-changing, rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for Washington to act.
Critics will say that, even if a state or city passed such a law, would-be smokers could go to an adjoining one to buy cigarettes. But evidence suggests that border-crossing and smuggling would be minimal. States that have sharply raised their cigarette taxes, after all, have not only increased tax revenue but also reduced rates of smoking prevalence, even among nicotine addicts. Young people, who are generally not addicted (yet) and who tend not to have peers who smoke, are even less likely to chase cigarettes across state or county lines.
Some antismoking advocates who support existing approaches (smoking-cessation programs, higher taxes) fear that pushing for an “end game” — a smoking rate below 10 percent — is too ambitious. But then, banning smoking in restaurants, workplaces and bars was once seen as crazy, too. Sometimes, a little crazy goes a long way.