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

Tobacco 21 is the Law of the Land

The American Lung Association has advocated for increasing the age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21 because it will help save lives. In December 2019, the legislation was included in the federal year-end legislative package and passed by both houses of Congress. President Trump signed the bill into law on December 20, 2019 and it immediately took effect.

In March 2015, a report from the National Academy of Medicine revealed that "Tobacco 21" could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including reducing lung cancer deaths by 50,000. This landmark report provided the science to support our advocacy efforts.

Momentum increased as cities and states across the nation began to increase their legal sales age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Nineteen states and DC passed Tobacco 21 laws.

Tobacco 21 is an important component of a comprehensive public health approach to reducing tobacco use. While Tobacco 21 is an important policy, because the youth vaping epidemic is at an all-time high, there is much more work to be done to save lives. In addition to Tobacco 21 we need to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, stop online (remote) sales and increase taxes on all tobacco products including e-cigarettes. In addition, FDA must begin its premarket review of all e-cigarettes, hookah, cigars and pipe tobacco.

States that Have Already Passed Tobacco 21 Laws

U.S. map showing states that have and have not passed strong tobacco sales laws

Prior to the passage of the federal law, 16 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 raised their minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21. Three additional states, Arkansas, Texas and Virginia, also raised the sales age to 21, but provisions in these state 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.

Page last updated: February 26, 2020

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