Tobacco 21

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Tobacco 21 was a United States national campaign aimed at raising the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco and nicotine in the United States to 21. [1] The campaign ended when Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the 2020 United States federal budget which raised the federal smoking age to 21. [2] The federal law is not enforced in all cases, and an Alaska Senate law to raise the age to 21 (from 19) was vetoed in 2022 [3] (since the law also raised taxes).


The campaign was produced and funded by the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, a public health nonprofit organization established in 1996. [4] Several national non-profit organizations, including the American Cancer Society in Oregon, [5] had supported raising the tobacco age.


Studies show that around 95% of adult smokers tried cigarettes before turning 21, and 80% of them had their first cigarette before their 18th birthday. [6] Adult smokers may supply tobacco products to younger consumers.[ citation needed ] Tobacco 21 law supporters believe that teenagers have fewer acquaintances aged 21 who could purchase nicotine delivery products for them.

The chosen age limit also has a precedent in the alcohol industry. The U.S.-wide legal age of 21 for the purchase of alcohol products is credited for reduced consumption among young people, as well as decreased alcohol addiction and drunk driving cases, but this claim is widely disputed and further research suggests raising the age had no effect on underage access and drunk driving rates. [7] [8] [9] [10]

Scientific aspect

The major scientific publication in support of Tobacco 21 is the Institute of Medicine's report "Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products", [11] which concluded by saying: "if the MLA were raised now to 21 nationwide, there would be approximately 223,000 fewer premature deaths, 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost for those born between 2000 and 2019."

An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine called Tobacco 21 "An idea whose time has come". [12]

On the contrary, there is evidence that suggests an age limit of 21 is not necessarily useful. Multiple studies, including review in 2011, provided evidence against the idea that raising the drinking age to 21 has actually saved lives in the long run. [13] [14] [15] [10] In one study, Miron and Tetelbaum (2009) discovered that when the federally coerced and non-coerced states were separated out, any lifesaving effect is no longer statistically or practically significant in the coerced states, and even in the voluntary-adopting states the effect does not seem to last beyond perhaps the first year or two. They also found that the 21 drinking age appears to have only a minor impact on teen drinking. [16] This could have many implications for the long-term effectiveness of the smoking age of 21.


The following organizations have endorsed Tobacco 21 at the national level, either through their own statements or through endorsement of Senate Bill 2100, the federal bill to raise the tobacco age to 21:

United States

State and national movement


Hawaii’s Tobacco 21 bill was signed by Governor David Ige and raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices, to 21, beginning on January 1, 2016. [32]

The legislation of this bill arose after the Institute of Medicine released a report explaining that raising the age to 21 would have significant public health benefits. The report estimated that making the minimum age 21 would result in avoiding nearly 250,000 premature deaths and 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer among individuals born between 2000 and 2019.

Under the bill, anyone caught breaking the law faces a $10 fine for the first offense and a $50 fine or community service for a second offense. Retailers caught selling to individuals under the age of 21 pay penalties ranging from $500 to $2,000.

A press release on the governor’s website explained the decision by referencing that in the United States, 95 percent of adults smokers begin smoking before the age of 21. Almost half of those become regular smokers before the age of 18 and another 25% become regular smokers between the ages of 18 and 21. [33]


California became the second state to implement a statewide Tobacco 21 law. Governor Jerry Brown signed a group of bills on May 4, 2016. [34] The bills were described as the “most expansive” attempt to regulate tobacco use within the state of California in over a decade. The bills were supported by various organizations and medical groups including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and California Medical Association. The bill was approved in a special health care session and became effective on June 9, 2016.

Washington, D.C.

On October 1, 2018, Washington, D.C., raised the legal age of buying tobacco to 21. [35] This was paired with raising the tax on cigarettes by 68% – to $4.94.

National minimum age increase

On December 20, 2019, as a part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was amended, raising the federal minimum age for sale of tobacco products in the US from 18 to 21. This legislation (known as “Tobacco 21” or “T21”) was effective immediately, and it is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product—including cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes—to anyone under 21 across the United States. The new federal minimum age of sale applies to all retail establishments and persons with no exceptions. [2] Some commentators have condemned the act for its questionable legality, considering it unconstitutional in violating a state's right to choose its own laws regarding setting an age for certain legal capacities, such as the ability to purchase tobacco. [36]

Local movements


In 2005, Needham, Massachusetts became the first jurisdiction worldwide to pass and enact a Tobacco 21 policy. [37]

New York City

In November 2013, New York City enacted legislation that raised the age to purchase tobacco products to 21, and also set a minimum price of $10.50 per pack of cigarettes, among other provisions. [38] The law went into effect on May 18, 2014. The bill came with significant penalties for those who do not comply with the law. Failure to post required signage can result in fines of up to $500. Sales of cigarettes, other tobacco products or electronic cigarettes to people under age 21 can result in New York City fines of up to $1,000 for the first violation and any other violation found that same day, and up to $2,000 for the second violation and any subsequent violation within three years. A second violation may result in revocation of the cigarette retail dealer license. New York State may impose additional fines and penalties for sales of these products to people under age 18.


In December 2015, Boston followed New York City by passing an ordinance to raise the tobacco sales age to 21. [39] Boston's Tobacco 21 law went into effect on February 15, 2016.


In March 2016, Chicago passed its Tobacco 21 ordinance. [40] The law went into effect on July 1, 2016. [41]

Kansas City

Kansas City approved its Tobacco 21 bill on November 19, 2015 and quickly put it into effect a week later on November 26. [42]


In December 2015, Cleveland passed a local ordinance to ban the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to any persons under the age of 21. The law went into effect on April 14, 2016. [43]

San Francisco

In March 2016, San Francisco joined the ranks of major American cities to pass an ordinance to raise the tobacco and nicotine sales age to 21. [44] The ordinance went into effect on June 1, 2016. Eight days later, California's Tobacco 21 bill went into effect statewide.[ citation needed ]

International movements


In Australia, the Minderoo Foundation runs and advocates for the smoking age in Australia to be raised to 21. [45] The Australian state of Tasmania has considered raising its smoking age from 18 to 21 but has faced some opposition from the Tasmanian Liberal government. [46] [47]


A similar organization, named, [48] has advocated increasing the smoking age in Canada to 21. [49] On March 1, 2020, Prince Edward Island became the first Canadian province to raise its smoking age from 19 to 21. [50]

United Kingdom

Sajid Javid, the former UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, advocated for raising smoking age in the United Kingdom to 21. [51] It has been heavily criticized by some commentators. [52]


Some have called into question the usefulness of raising the smoking age to 21, [53] [54] pointing to studies showing the ineffectiveness of raising the drinking age to 21 in the long-term for the United States, as it only had a minor effect on teen drinking. [55] [56] [57] [10] Some suggest that the age restriction laws are merely a way to placate critics of "Big Tobacco", in that setting a higher age limit would appease people looking for bigger solutions. [58]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cigarette</span> Small roll of cut tobacco designed to be smoked

A cigarette is a narrow cylinder containing a combustible material, typically tobacco, that is rolled into thin paper for smoking. The cigarette is ignited at one end, causing it to smolder; the resulting smoke is orally inhaled via the opposite end. Cigarette smoking is the most common method of tobacco consumption. The term cigarette, as commonly used, refers to a tobacco cigarette, but the word is sometimes used to refer to other substances, such as a cannabis cigarette or an herbal cigarette. A cigarette is distinguished from a cigar by its usually smaller size, use of processed leaf, and paper wrapping, which is typically white. Most modern cigarettes are filtered, although this does not make the smoke inhaled from them contain fewer carcinogens and harmful chemicals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking ban</span> Law prohibiting tobacco smoking in a given space

Smoking bans, or smoke-free laws, are public policies, including criminal laws and occupational safety and health regulations, that prohibit tobacco smoking in certain spaces. The spaces most commonly affected by smoking bans are indoor workplaces and buildings open to the public such as restaurants, bars, office buildings, schools, retail stores, hospitals, libraries, transport facilities, and government buildings, in addition to public transport vehicles such as aircraft, buses, watercraft, and trains. However, laws may also prohibit smoking in outdoor areas such as parks, beaches, pedestrian plazas, college and hospital campuses, and within a certain distance from the entrance to a building, and in some cases, private vehicles and multi-unit residences.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Minimum Drinking Age Act</span> 1984 U.S. law which indirectly raised the nationwide minimum drinking age to 21

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed by the United States Congress and was later signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on July 17, 1984. The act would punish any state that allowed persons under 21 years to purchase alcoholic beverages by reducing its annual federal highway apportionment by 10 percent. The law was later amended, lowering the penalty to 8 percent from fiscal year 2012 and beyond.

Tobacco harm reduction (THR) is a public health strategy to lower the health risks to individuals and wider society associated with using tobacco products. It is an example of the concept of harm reduction, a strategy for dealing with the use of drugs. Tobacco smoking is widely acknowledged as a leading cause of illness and death, and reducing smoking is vital to public health.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cigarette taxes in the United States</span> Taxes imposed on sale of cigarettes in the U.S.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tobacco politics</span> Politics surrounding the use and distribution of tobacco

Tobacco politics refers to the politics surrounding the use and distribution of tobacco.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tobacco control</span> Field of health science

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act</span>

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, is a federal statute in the United States that was signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 22, 2009. The Act gives the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate the tobacco industry. A signature element of the law imposes new warnings and labels on tobacco packaging and their advertisements, with the goal of discouraging minors and young adults from smoking. The Act also bans flavored cigarettes, places limits on the advertising of tobacco products to minors and requires tobacco companies to seek FDA approval for new tobacco products.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tobacco in the United States</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking in Canada</span>

SmokinginCanada is banned in indoor public spaces, public transit facilities and workplaces, by all territories and provinces, and by the federal government. As of 2010, legislation banning smoking within each of these jurisdictions is mostly consistent, despite the separate development of legislation by each jurisdiction. Notable variations between the jurisdictions include: whether, and in what circumstances ventilated smoking rooms are permitted; whether, and up to what distance away from a building is smoking banned outside of a building; and, whether smoking is banned in private vehicles occupied by children.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking in Iceland</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Plain tobacco packaging</span> Legally mandated packaging of tobacco products without any brand imagery

Plain tobacco packaging, also known as generic, neutral, standardised or homogeneous packaging, is packaging of tobacco products, typically cigarettes, without any branding, including only the brand name in a mandated size, font and place on the pack, in addition to the health warnings and any other legally mandated information such as toxic constituents and tax-paid stamps. The appearance of all tobacco packs is standardised, including the colour of the pack.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking in the United Kingdom</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking in the Philippines</span>

Tobacco smoking in the Philippines affects a sizable minority of the population. According to the 2015 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) conducted under the auspices of the Philippines' Department of Health, Philippine Statistics Authority, the World Health Organization, and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23.8 percent of the adult population were "current tobacco smokers". This figures represented 16.6 million of 69 million adult Filipinos.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Regulation of electronic cigarettes</span> International regulations

Regulation of electronic cigarettes varies across countries and states, ranging from no regulation to banning them entirely. As of 2015, around two thirds of major nations have regulated e-cigarettes in some way.

The scientific community in the United States and Europe are primarily concerned with the possible effect of electronic cigarette use on public health. There is concern among public health experts that e-cigarettes could renormalize smoking, weaken measures to control tobacco, and serve as a gateway for smoking among youth. The public health community is divided over whether to support e-cigarettes, because their safety and efficacy for quitting smoking is unclear. Many in the public health community acknowledge the potential for their quitting smoking and decreasing harm benefits, but there remains a concern over their long-term safety and potential for a new era of users to get addicted to nicotine and then tobacco. There is concern among tobacco control academics and advocates that prevalent universal vaping "will bring its own distinct but as yet unknown health risks in the same way tobacco smoking did, as a result of chronic exposure", among other things.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Smoking in North Korea</span> Overview of smoking in North Korea

Tobacco smoking is popular in North Korea and culturally acceptable among men, but not for women. As of 2014, some 45% of men are reported to smoke daily, whilst in contrast only 2.5% of women smoke daily, with most of these being older women from rural areas. Smoking is a leading cause of death in North Korea, and as of 2010 mortality figures indicate that 34% of men and 22% of women die due to smoking-related causes, the highest mortality figures in the world. There are tobacco control programs in North Korea, and although smoking was not prohibited in all public spaces, the smoking rates have declined since their peak in the 2000s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tobacco policy in Armenia</span>

Tobacco policy in Armenia is the attempt by the Armenian authorities to regulate smoking in Armenia. Tobacco laws and regulations are controlled by the Ministry of Health of Armenia. Armenian men tend to be the most common tobacco users, as 42.5% of men over the age of 15 smoke.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">U.S. history of tobacco minimum purchase age by state</span>

The minimum purchasing age for tobacco in the United States before 2022 varied by state and territory. Since December 20, 2019, the smoking age in all states and territories is 21 after federal law was passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. The minimum age is still 18 in some states, e.g. the federal law is not enforced in Arizona, and in Alaska the minimum age in 19; in 2022 the governor vetoed a senate law to raise it to 21.


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