Regarding the proposal to increase the minimum age to purchase cigarettes in New Jersey from 18 to 21:
The fact is that the drinking age of 21 was a random age politically chosen. There is no scientific evidence to support 21 as the age that one can start consuming alcohol. It is entirely without scientific basis.
The human brain takes many years to fully mature. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is unique to humans, and the part of the brain that tells you to follow the rules, not speed and basically use common sense, takes 28 years to develop in humans.
The lack of prefrontal-cortex development in children is why they do so many foolish things.
One can learn algebra and other facts before 28; it is just that the ability to think clearly and logically about one's best interests and plan accordingly is not fully developed until 28. So if one wanted to use science as a basis for determining the onset of privileged behaviors such as smoking and drinking, then the brain development age of 28 would be the most logical.
The only argument that could probably be made against the scientific 28-year standard would be in terms of the financial loss on liquor and cigarette manufacturers. But the change certainly would go a long way toward increasing traffic safety and decreasing crime, as well as health, among those under 28.
RONALD J. COUGHLIN
Ronald J. Coughlin is a licensed psychologist.