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Virginia Becomes 7th State to Raise Legal Sales Age for Tobacco to 21, but Legislation Contains Troubling Provisions that will Weaken its Effectiveness

(February 22, 2019) - RICHMOND, Va.

Statement of American Lung Association National Assistant Vice President, State Public Policy Michael Seilback in response to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s signing of Tobacco 21 legislation in Virginia:

“Tobacco 21 laws prevent tobacco use and save lives. Yesterday, Gov. Ralph Northam signed identical House and Senate bills that increase the tobacco sales age – including e-cigarettes – from 18 to 21 in Virginia. The American Lung Association encourages all states to raise the age of tobacco sales to 21. And while we welcome the news that Virginia is now the 7th state to do so, we are also deeply concerned about some of the provisions in this legislation, which will limit the law’s effectiveness and will not protect all Virginia youth from a lifetime of tobacco addiction.

“As required by the Tobacco Control Act, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioned the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) to conduct a study on ‘the public health implications of raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products.’ The expert study released publicly in April 2015 concluded that increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to at least 21 years old would significantly reduce youth tobacco use and save thousands of lives.

“Specifically, NAM predicts that smoking will be reduced by 25 percent among those 15-17 years old and by 15 percent among those 18-20 years old if the tobacco sales age is increased to 21. This could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer, the nation's leading cancer killer.

“States and local governments have the authority to raise the minimum age for the sale of tobacco products to 21. Virginia joins six states – California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine – that have raised the tobacco age to 21, along with at least 430 localities, including New York City, Chicago, San Antonio, Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis, both Kansas Cities, and Washington, D.C. Some of the localities are in the states that subsequently enacted statewide laws.

“Tobacco is a highly addictive product, and close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. More must be done to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use in Virginia, and one powerful tool – as stated in the Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control report -  is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21, but the legislation must be comprehensive in order to be effective.

“The American Lung Association in Virginia will continue working with state leaders to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease. We look forward to seeing comprehensive Tobacco 21 laws passing across the country.”

To learn more about Tobacco 21 laws visit, and more information about the youth e-cigarette epidemic may be found at For media interested in speaking with an expert about tobacco control policies, e-cigarettes, tobacco use and lung health, contact the American Lung Association, Eastern Division Communications Director Ewa Dworakowski at [email protected] or 717-503-3903.


About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit:

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