DENVER (CBS4) – There’s a push to try to raise the legal age for buying cigarettes in the United States. Right now it’s 18, but that could change to 21 if a Colorado congresswoman gets her way.

Supporters of raising the smoking age say it’s all about protecting teens. Ninety percent of smokers have their first cigarette by age 18 when they’re more vulnerable to addiction. While state lawmakers have tried and failed to raise the age limit, U.S. Rep Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, says there’s growing support for the idea across the country.

Kyler Tarlton and Theresa Clark are like many smokers — they’d love to quit.

“I try every day to cut back now that I’m older,” Clark said.

“Wish you could take back things … I probably would not have started smoking, but it is what it is,” Tarlton said.

Still, they say even if the age limit had been higher when they started it wouldn’t have helped.

“There was law that you can’t smoke at 14 years old … and I started at 14, so it didn’t stop me,” Tarlton said.

A new study by the Institutes of Health finds raising the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 would result in 12 percent fewer smokers, and 294,000 fewer deaths.

“The evidence is absolutely clear that smoking kills people … and so many people because of advertising targeting … they start smoking so young,” DeGette said.

DeGette has introduced legislation to make 21 the legal age to buy tobacco nationwide. It comes as support for the idea grows, and as smoking among teenagers drops from 16 percent in 2013 to 9 percent last year.

DeGette says if you can’t drink and use marijuana until 21, you shouldn’t be able to smoke. But Tarlton says if you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to buy a cigarette.

“They got age of 18 to join military but they want to raise age on smoking?” Tarlton said.

A recent survey found 70 percent of non-smokers and nearly 60 percent of smokers want the age limit raised. Hawaii and several cities including New York have already gone to 21. But DeGette will need Republican support to get her bill through and so far she doesn’t have that.


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