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Tobacco 21 Laws: Tracking Progress Toward Raising the Minimum Sales Age for All Tobacco Products to 21

U.S. map showing states that have and have not passed strong tobacco sales lawsRaising the Minimum Sales Age for Tobacco to 21 Will Reduce Youth Tobacco Use and Save Lives

Tobacco use is a serious health hazard, causing or worsening a wide range of adverse health effects, including lung cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma. Adolescents and young adults are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction, causing lasting, adverse consequences on brain development.

Sixteen states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont and Washington— as well as the District of Columbia have taken an important step to protect their kids from this threat by raising the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21. Three additional states, Arkansas, Texas and Virginia, have also raised the sales age to 21, but provisions in these laws will make the age increase less effective.

Why 21? Increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to at least 21 years old will significantly reduce youth tobacco use and save thousands of lives.

Here are a few reasons why raising the sales age to 21 will make a difference:

  • Virtually all (94 percent) of adult smokers had their first cigarette before turning 21, and most (81 percent) before age 18.
  • Smokers aged 18 and 19 years old are often a supplier for younger kids who rely on friends, classmates and peers to buy tobacco products. Since students do not typically reach 21 years old while still in high school, increasing the age of sale would greatly reduce the number of high school students who could purchase tobacco products.
  • Increasing the sales age for tobacco products to 21 will help counter the tobacco industry's efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking.
  • A national sales age of 21 for alcohol sales resulted in reduced alcohol consumption among youth, decreased alcohol dependence and has led to a dramatic reduction in drunk driving fatalities. It's predicted that raising the national sales age for tobacco products will have similar effects.

The potential impact is significant.

According to a 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine, if the minimum age were increased to 21 years of age:

  • Tobacco use would decrease by 12 percent by the time today’s teenagers were adults and smoking-related deaths will decrease by 10 percent.
  • Smoking initiation will be reduced by 25 percent for 15-17 year-olds and 15 percent for 18-20 year-olds.
  • Nationwide, it 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.

Tobacco 21 is nationwide!

In addition to the 19 states and Washington, D.C. that have passed Tobacco 21, hundreds of communities nationwide have made the change and led the way to increase the age of sale from 18 to 21. As of November 2019, more than 50 percent of the population now lives in a state or community that has passed a Tobacco 21 law.

    Page Last Updated: December 5, 2019

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