Public Health

Raising minimum age for purchasing tobacco has health implications

More than 140 localities in 10 states have raised the minimum purchasing age for tobacco from 18 years of age to 21—a movement that has been a long time coming. Find out why this is crucial to the health of the nation and which states and cities have such rules in place.

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California became the second state to raise the tobacco purchasing age when Gov. Jerry Brown signed bills to reduce tobacco use by increasing the purchasing age for tobacco products from 18 years of age to 21, adding e-cigarettes to state tobacco regulations and adopting other measures.

Hawaii was the first state to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco to 21 years old. Cities and counties in California, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Ohio also have enacted legislation bolstering the wave of support for this initiative.

Chicago recently took it one step further, not only increasing the tobacco purchasing age to 21 but also eliminating smokeless tobacco use at sporting events, including its professional sports venues, such as Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.

Keeping cigarettes away from minors

Tobacco use remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. A report from the U.S. Surgeon General shows that nearly 90 percent of adults who smoke on a daily basis had their first cigarette by age 18.

The National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, last year concluded that raising the tobacco age would significantly reduce smoking among youth and young adults, decrease the number of smoking-caused deaths, and immediately improve the health of youth, young adults and young mothers who would be dissuaded from smoking as a result.

The report also predicts that raising the minimum age will reduce the smoking rate over time by about 12 percent and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent. This reduction translates into 223,000 fewer premature deaths, 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost.

The AMA has long-standing policy regarding increasing the age of tobacco purchase to 21. In January, the AMA submitted a letter to N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, urging him to sign legislation that would raise the age for purchasing tobacco and electronic smoking devices as well as the age of a person to whom a vendor may sell, offer for sale, distribute, give or furnish such products in the state. Christie vetoed the legislation.

If California’s law is enacted, this may provide momentum to the numerous bills pending across the nation. Over the last two years, bills have been filed in more than 16 states, including: Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

The AMA also submitted a letter to Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, encouraging him to sign the bills, citing that the “legislation will protect California’s youth from the dangers of tobacco use and improve public health.”