Minimum legal age for tobacco laws specify an age below which the purchase or public consumption of tobacco is illegal, often 18, 19, or 21. Some states have age restrictions for sales but have not passed laws setting a minimum consumption age. Initiatives to increase the age to 21 are often referred to as ‘Tobacco 21.’ Estimates indicate 95% of adult smokers began smoking before age 211.
Note: The term “tobacco” in this strategy refers to commercial tobacco, not ceremonial or traditional tobacco. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps recognizes the important role that ceremonial and traditional tobacco play for many Tribal Nations, and our tobacco-related work focuses on eliminating the harms and inequities associated with commercial tobacco.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)
Reduced tobacco use
Reduced youth smoking
Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes
Improved health outcomes
Evidence of Effectiveness
Increasing the minimum legal tobacco age to 21 is a suggested strategy to reduce tobacco use among youth2. Available evidence suggests that increasing the minimum legal tobacco age to 21 is likely to reduce initiation of tobacco use, particularly among adolescents aged 15 to 173. Models indicate a 12% decrease in smoking prevalence over time as a result of such a change, as well as immediate improvements in the health of adolescents and young adults, and decreases in related long-term mortality3. Models estimate that increasing the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 could lead to $212 billion in savings over 50 years, driven largely by reduced medical costs4.
Impact on Disparities
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1 CTFK-Minimum tobacco age - Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids. Increasing the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products to 21.
2 CDC-Youth and tobacco - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Youth and tobacco use.
3 IOM-Bonnie-2015 - Bonnie RJ, Stratton K, Kwan LY. Public health implications of raising the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine of the National Academies; 2015.
4 Ahmad 2005* - Ahmad S. Closing the youth access gap: The projected health benefits and cost savings of a national policy to raise the legal smoking age to 21 in the United States. Health Policy. 2005;75(1):74-84.
5 King 2015* - King BA, Jama AO, Marynak KL, Promoff GR. Attitudes toward raising the minimum age of sale for tobacco among U.S. Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2015;49(4):583-588.
6 Farley 2015* - Farley SM, Coady MH, Mandel-Ricci J, et al. Public opinions on tax and retail-based tobacco control strategies. Tobacco Control. 2015;24(e1):e10-e13.
7 CDPH-Tobacco 21 - California Department of Public Health (CDPH). California Tobacco 21 Law. Resources for retailers.
8 CTFK-Communities - Hadley S. States and localities that have raised the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products to 21: Southampton. 2016;(5):2016.
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