Old enough to fight and vote, old enough to smoke?
Maybe not in Louisiana if state Rep. Frank Hoffmann has his way.
Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, authored House Resolution 177 this spring directing the Louisiana Department of Health to study the impact of raising the state's smoking age from 18 to 21.
"I actually initially wrote a bill to change the age to 21, but I knew we weren't ready to do that," Hoffmann said. "This is going to be a study to see what's going on around the country —- how it's working, health outcomes and money being saved."
Hoffmann smoked three packs a day himself in the 1980s before kicking the habit. "I used to eat 'em," he said, "until I got to where I couldn't breathe."
Since joining the Legislature Hoffmann has made it one of his missions to curb smoking through tobacco tax increases and reducing smoking on elementary and high school campuses.
Gov. John Bel Edwards just signed Hoffman's Act 351 (House Bill 531) that extends the no smoking policies at all Louisiana public and private schools. "This basically eliminates designated smoking areas," he said.
And now Hoffmann hopes his resolution could perhaps set the stage for raising the age.
He already has the support of Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee, who said smokers cost the state about per $12 per pack in health care costs.
"Raising the age would have a profound impact on the overall health of the people of our state," Gee said. "Whatever we can do to prevent smoking will have a powerful impact on lives and the bottom line of health care costs."
Only two states, California and Hawaii, have raised the smoking age to 21 so far, but 220 municipalities in 16 states have raised the age in their cities, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Louisiana ranks 43rd among states with the most smokers with 21.9 percent of its population lighting up, according to America's Health Rankings. The national average is 17.5 percent. Utah is the best at 9.1 percent, while Kentucky is the worst at 25.9 percent.
"It's the No. 1 killer in the country and Louisiana is among the worst on smoking in the nation," Gee said. "It's our No. 1 problem with public health in the state and kids shouldn't be smoking."
Hoffman believes fewer people would ever start smoking if the age was raised to 21. "You tend to make better decisions about your health the older you get and the more information you have," he said.
"If you look around the country you can see there is some growing sentiment and momentum to consider raising the smoking age," said Hoffmann, chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee.
"I'd like to see us take the lead in the biggest thing we can do to reduce preventable disease and deaths," he said. "This is at least a start."
By the numbers
Louisiana smokers: 21.9 percent
State ranking: 43rd
National average: 17.5 percent
To quit: Call the Louisiana Tobacco Control Program help line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or go online and visit www.QuitwithUsLA.org.