There are many laws that prohibit minors from engaging in certain behaviors such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, marrying, etc.
Most of the arguments I’ve heard on these issues rely on the notion that the lawmakers have a better idea of what is good for a child than the child itself. I reckon the lawmakers think this because children, as a general rule, are less educated than adults about the behaviors in question. The average minor may not know the effects of smoking as well as the average adult, and therefore be in a bad position to determine if smoking is a good idea.
The problem I see with this is that age is only a very rough approximation of intelligence. In the case of smoking, it could very well be the case that owing to the barrage of anti-smoking information children are given they may have more knowledge of its harmful effects than most adults who never received that education or have long since forgotten it.
A solution I’d like to see implemented is to offer minors a test whereby they could prove they had ample knowledge of smoking, or alcohol (or whatever else is prohibited) to be able to engage in those behaviors prior to their 18th birthday (or 21st).
Take whatever information adults are assumed to possess about these subjects and then create a multiple choice exam to see if there are minors who possess this information as well. If so, those minors would be given the same freedom as adults.
A possible counterargument might be that some of those prohibitions have to do with physical aspects of the minor and not their capacity to make good decisions. Commenting on the effect alcohol has on adolescents, Dr. Linda Patia Spear remarked, “Rapidly changing body systems often are particularly vulnerable to disruption, and hence long-term consequences may result from alcohol exposure during this time of accelerated neural and endocrine system maturation.”
While convincing, I’m left wondering if the government should not also make laws that limit the alcohol-intake of adult alcoholics who are in danger of liver failure and other alcohol induced problems. I don’t see why the government should take pains to prevent minors from drinking even an ounce but turn a blind eye to adults who drink themselves to death.