U.S. Raises Tobacco Buying Age to 21

Sign reading 'buying tobacco for minors could cost you.'

Retailers across the country took down their signs by cash registers stating that consumers must be 18 to buy tobacco products. That age has now changed to 21 after President Trump signed a bill into law to that effect.

In response to nationwide concerns over increased numbers of young people vaping nicotine, the bipartisan bill called the Tobacco-Free Youth Act prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from buying tobacco products, e-cigarettes, and vaping products.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) partnered with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) to raise the minimum age to protect young people from the damaging effects of nicotine.

“Passage of this lifesaving legislation is an enormous victory for the health of our young people. By raising the age to buy tobacco products nationwide, we can save 223,000 lives and reduce youth tobacco use,” said Kaine.

Both McConnell and Kaine hail from states that report a long history of tobacco production and consumption and the resulting negative effects on the youth in those areas.

Yet, Kaine acknowledges that the problem is much more widespread.

“This is one of many steps we should take to tackle the youth e-cigarette epidemic that touches every corner of our nation,” he said in a press release jointly issued by his office and McConnell’s.

Too Many American Kids Using Tobacco

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports alarming statistics for tobacco use among U.S. teens.

The agency’s tobacco-related statistics include:

  • Over 6 million middle and high school students have used tobacco in the last 30 days.
  • 1 in 3 high schoolers reported using tobacco in the last 30 days.
  • 1 in 8 middle schoolers reported using tobacco in the last 30 days.
  • E-cigarettes are most commonly used followed, by cigars, cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco.

“Our nation’s youth are becoming increasingly exposed to nicotine, a drug that is highly addictive and can harm brain development,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D.

Most Habitual Smokers Begin Before Their 21st Birthday

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies states that most adult smokers began the habit before age 21. For this reason, eliminating young people’s ability to buy tobacco products could save lives, improve public health, and reduce the number of new smokers among youth.

This federal ruling follows 19 states who have already increased the minimum age to buy tobacco products, which include: 

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Regionally, before this federal mandate, Washington, D.C., and more than 500 cities and towns enacted laws that only persons 21 and over could buy smoking-related products.

Vaping Proving Deadly for Some

In recent years, vaping has become a national craze, with retail storefronts cropping up in communities across the country. A wide array of flavors is offered in vaping products, which health organizations say are popular among young people.

Vaping proponents argue that vaping aids adult smokers who desire to quit combustible cigarettes.

Yet, dangerous vaping incidents abound, causing lung injury to its victims. The CDC states that all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, reported at least 2,668 cases of vaping injury in January 2019. At least 60 of those cases resulted in death.

These cases encompass only those hospitalized, so the number could be even greater.

Vaping Industry Approves of Age Increase

According to an email sent to CNN Health, the Vapor Technology Association supports the new legislation but rejects ideas to ban flavored vaping products. Executive Director Tony Abboud feels flavored vapor is a sound alternative for adults trying to quit smoking.

Matthew Myers, president of the Tobacco-Free Kids campaign, disagrees and calls for the Trump administration to take further measures.

In a written statement, Myers stated, “Raising the tobacco age to 21 is a positive step, but it is not a substitute for prohibiting the flavored e-cigarettes that are luring and addicting our kids.”


Center for Disease Control. (n.d.). Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with E-Cigarette, or Vaping products. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html#what-we-know

Howard, J. (2019, Dec. 27). The U.S. officially raises the tobacco buying age to 21. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/27/health/us-tobacco-age-21-trnd/index.html

Press Release from the Office of Tim Kaine. (2019, Dec. 19). McConnell/Kaine Bill to Raise Tobacco Purchase Age to 21 Now Goes to the President for Signature. Retrieved from: https://www.kaine.senate.gov/press-releases/mcconnell/kaine-bill-to-raise-tobacco-purchase-age-to-21-now-goes-to-president-for-signature

Center for Disease Control. (n.d.) 6.2 Million middle and high school students used tobacco products in 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/1205-nyts-2019.html

Institute of Medicine Report Brief. (2015, Mar.). Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Reports/2015/TobaccoMinimumAgeReport.aspx

Press Release from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. (2019, Dec. 16). Raising the Tobacco Age to 21 Won’t Stop the Youth E-Cigarette Epidemic and Is Not a Substitute for Eliminating the Flavored Products that Lure Kids. Retrieved from: https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/press-releases/2019_12_16_tobacco21_flavor

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