In San Francisco there was a move to lower the voting age to 16; in the California legislature there is a bill to raise the legal age for smoking from 18 to 21. When can teens and young adults reach the maturity to make important decisions for themselves?

I’m old enough to clearly remember the heated dispute over lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. The debate came to a head during the Vietnam War when 18-year-olds could be drafted to go to war but could not vote to elect those who would order soldiers into battle. The voting age was lowered nationally to 18 in July 1971 with the adoption of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It came too late for me to vote before my 21st birthday.

While the discussion on voting age centers around what age an individual is responsible and experienced enough to vote, SB 151 by Sen. Ed Hernandez now held in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, proposes raising the legal age of smoking from 18 to 21.

Hawaii became the first state to change the smoking age from 18 to 21, the law taking effect next January.

Since no one wants an overreaching government (I hope) to individually grade young people on when they can vote, or drink, or drive or smoke, an age line seems to be the most operative mechanism when society seeks to set standards for partaking in particular activities. A one-size-fit-all policy is not an easy thing to determine. But, why can an 18-year-old vote and buy a long gun (but not a handgun), pay taxes, but cannot drink alcohol and, if SB 151 passes, smoke?

If discouraging drinking and smoking at an early age is a deterrent – and many argue that it is not – is 21 an arbitrary number? What about setting age 25 as the cutoff? We tried prohibition in this country and it didn’t work. Likewise, the drinking age limit is not a failsafe—visit any college campus and you’ll know.

Perhaps my familiarity with the Vietnam era voting debate still has a strong hold on me, but if we are to use an arbitrary age to determine legal majority and we can take people into the armed services at age 18 then I think the same 18-year-old standard can be the majority standard for other activities.