While teaching Project Towards No Drug Abuse at one of our local schools this past week, an interesting point was brought up. One of the students asked, “If marijuana is so bad, why are people trying to make it legal?” This question was then followed up with, “Why is tobacco legal if it’s bad for you?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond in the moment, but I made a theory and said I would look up the correct answer. With so much scientific evidence proving that smoking tobacco is bad for your health, it’s hard to justify why it’s legal.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, there are laws in place for several main reasons. The first is to prevent people, especially children and youth, from starting to use tobacco. During my lifetime, the age for buying tobacco products has been 18, but there are many states (Illinois included) that are looking at raising the age to 21. Statistics show that nearly 90% cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18, and 99% first tried smoking by age 26. By making tobacco use legal, ideally the government is preventing underage youth from beginning to smoke.

In addition, the laws are in place to help people quit using tobacco products and aim to reduce the harmful effects caused by tobacco use. Since 2008, Illinois has had smoke-free Illinois in place, which prohibits smoking in public places and places of employment. By having tobacco use legalized, the legislators of Illinois were able to put in preventative measures to protect citizens from secondhand smoke.

In the end, I guess it was a simple answer. It’s our society’s way to try to protect our youth and others in the community.

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