Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products
Several states and municipalities across the United States are
advocating for and implementing regulations that raise the minimum age of legal (MLA) access to tobacco
products to 21 years of age. In June 2015, Hawaii
became the first U.S. state to raise the MLA to 21 and, in March 2016, California
became the second.
In 2009, the Family
Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act authorized the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
to regulate certain aspects of the tobacco industry. The act also mandated that the FDA convene an
expert panel to review the public health implications of raising the MLA. In 2015, the Institute of
Medicine (IOM) released its report, Public Health
Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products, which reviews the
literature on tobacco use initiation and models the public health outcomes of raising the MLA to 21
and 25 years of age. The IOM
report found that raising the MLA was likely to reduce tobacco initiation among youths, improve health
across the lifespan, and save lives.
In particular, the IOM report highlighted that underage tobacco users typically rely on “social sources,”
as friends, to obtain tobacco. While raising the MLA to 19 may not reduce social sources of tobacco for high
school-aged teenagers, raising it to 21 could mean that legal tobacco users will be less likely to share social
networks with teenagers. The report also noted that raising the age from 21 to 25 is not likely to significantly
decrease the amount of social sources of tobacco for young teenagers. In addition, the report found that
increasing the MLA to 21 or 25 could significantly decrease the prevalence of tobacco users by the time current
teenagers reach adulthood. These findings and other
recent data indicate that an MLA of 21 significantly reduces smoking rates among high schoolers have
contributed to the evidence base for raising the MLA.
Examples of Rural Communities that Raised the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products
of Iola, Kansas: Although the state of Kansas restricts tobacco sales to adults who are
18 years of age or older, state law does not prohibit local governments from enacting regulations that
further limit youth access to tobacco. Since 2015, several municipalities in Kansas have passed ordinances
to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21, including the city of Iola
in rural Allen County. The ordinance received support from several local organizations and businesses,
such as Thrive Allen County.
County, New York: In April 2016, the Chautauqua
County Legislature increased the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21. The ordinance
received support from Tobacco-Free
Western New York and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
Considerations for Implementation
The Tobacco Control
Legal Consortium (TCLC) has developed a technical
assistance guide that describes policy considerations for raising the minimum legal sales age for
tobacco. For example, several states have preemption
laws that prohibit local governments from raising the MLA in their municipalities.
TCLC also offers a sample
ordinance for creating and a sample
resolution supporting a minimum legal sales age of 21 for tobacco products. The Preventing Tobacco
Addiction Foundation has a
toolkit that offers talking points for communities that seeking to raise the MLA to 21.
Resources to Learn More
Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age for Purchasing Tobacco Products
This Institute of Medicine Report describes the potential public health outcomes of raising the minimum legal
age of access to tobacco products.
Organization(s): Institute of Medicine (Currently the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine)