Can New Smoking Law still Hurt Minors?

By "A Novice Journalist"

A new law has taken effect that prohibits anyone under 21-years-old to legally buy cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco-related products in the United States of America.

The rule also applies to electronic cigarettes and vaping products, the Associated Press reported. According to a 2015 study from the National Academy of Medicine, setting the legal smoking age at 21 could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between the years 2000 and 2019 and reduce lung cancer deaths by 50,000.

Even with the possible forthcoming effects of the law, some Americans suspect that police could use this rule as a predicate to unreasonably search a minor or their property, while pulled over.

Austin Price, a U.S. Navy veteran, is one of those Americans. 

"I think that this new rule will cause a lot of problems for those who once could legally smoke cigarettes," Price said. "Let's say that a person is pulled over for a traffic violation. If the officer sees tobacco products in the vehicle and finds out you're under the age of 21, there could be more problems than what initially occurred in the first place."

Legal scholars such as Distinguished University Professor Emeritus Joshua Dressler at The Ohio State University state there are many aspects to consider. 

"The police use countless motor vehicle laws as reasons to stop drivers of cars when they want to investigate further," Dressler said. "The officer claims the driver is going over the speed limit, and that gives them a chance to inspect the vehicle visually. It also gives the officer the chance to request consent to fully search the car and, amazingly, many people give consent. Is it voluntary?  Usually, not really, but the court is not likely to say it is involuntary unless the officer draws their service weapon."

However, Dressler believes that police will not likely enforce the new law to a certain extent.

"I speculate that most officers will not want to waste their time stopping cars when they see what may be an underage person smoking," he said. "Even if the minor was ticketed for possessing a cigarette, as it now stands, the new law does not carry jail time. The Supreme Court has held up the notion that if a person is the subject of a non-custodial arrest, it is not permitted to search the vehicle based on the arrest."

Despite Dressler's assurances, Price is still apprehensive about the new law affecting the individual privacy rights of minors.

“I understand that cops might not enforce the law all the way," Price said. "But there is a good chance that this rule could be used in a negative way. A person could be pulled over for something as simple as smoking a cigarette. And that doesn't sit too well with me."

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