By Can Altunkaynak
Smoking has long been a significant part of my life. You see, on the other side of the world, specifically in Europe and the Middle East, people smoke everywhere. It has a habitual connotation rather than a detrimental one. It is almost a cultural thing, after all. However, in the US you cannot sit at a table on the street that belongs to a cafe and smoke. You cannot even smoke in a park. Everything is fundamentally different compared to back home.
Yet, after having been in the US for a few months, my perspective on smoking changed drastically and I eventually decided to quit as a New Year’s resolution. Normally, I would manage not to smoke only for a couple of days but this time it was easier to quit. Why? Because as of Jan. 1, Oregon became the fifth state to increase the legal age of tobacco possession to 21, joining California, Hawaii, Maine and New Jersey. This means that even though a smoker is older than 18 and has been legally smoking up until now, they are not going to be able to smoke until they are over 21. Before looking at the implications and pros and cons of this law, however, it is important to know why the law was created in the first place.
The ultimate goal is to create a smoke-free Oregon. This can be seen in other laws that were recently implemented. The first such act was the Indoor Clean Air Act that passed in 1981 and was extended in 2016 to create a smoke-free workplace. Additionally, one cannot smoke close to TriMet stops or natural areas like parks. All of these indicate the vision for Oregon’s future, but the transition process to that healthy vision can be hard, especially for those who smoke habitually.
As a former longtime smoker, I can empathize. I think it should be kept in mind that smoking can became a habitual activity, creating a psychological dependency. This psychological dependency is likely to bother former smokers even after the physical dependency ends. Personally, I did not have much issue quitting, since cigarettes are less embedded and more stigmatized in American culture than in my home country of Turkey; however, I understand that quitting is difficult for many people.
I believe the new law can actually help people quit smoking. I do not think that I would have ever be able to quit smoking if it was not for the law. I would like to believe that the law creates a good excuse or at least encourages those who are willing to quit. Even though it could be tough for those who are habitually smoking, the change has to occur in order to ensure a healthier Oregon.
However, is it effective to raise the smoking age to 21? How has the law affected LC? Even though I am no longer included in the social circles of DSAs, it still seems to me that everything is as it used to be. People still keep smoking and I do not think that Campus Safety is asking for IDs. They might, but as far as I have observed, people are more lenient all around the world when it comes to smoking cigarettes, maybe because it is easier to understand the dependency compared to other substances.
Even if Campus Safety asks for IDs, those who want to smoke can still find ways despite the law. As a former smoker, smokers will find a way if they want to. However, in general, I think raising the smoking age to 21 is a good. American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network states that nearly 95 percent of smokers start smoking before the age of 21. Hence, raising the age requirement could be the key to a healthier Oregon, a state where the leading cause of preventable death is tobacco use.
I am aware that everyone works differently, but for the sake of humor and encouragement, if a Turkish guy can quit smoking after so many years, you can too. There is, after all, a reason why people use the expression “to smoke like a Turk.”