States Enact Tobacco 21 Laws

April 24, 2019|1:53 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

CDC recognizes tobacco use as the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States and estimates that each day, approximately 2,000 people under age 18 smoke their first cigarette, with more than 300 becoming daily cigarette smokers. In 2015, the Institute of Medicine projected that if the age of sale for tobacco products was set at 21 years of age across the country, there would be 249,000 fewer premature deaths. Since the report was published, several jurisdictions have increased the age of sale for tobacco products to 21. By the end of 2018, laws to increase the age of sale, also known as tobacco 21 laws, were enacted in six states—California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oregon—as well as Washington, D.C. and Guam.

Recently, the prospect of a national tobacco 21 law received some attention, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing his intent to introduce a bill in Congress. Meanwhile, during this year’s state legislative sessions, tobacco 21 laws were proposed in 28 states, with lawmakers in seven—Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Utah, Virginia, and Washington state—passing a tobacco 21 law.

Below is a brief overview of the bills that passed state legislatures to date:

  • An Arkansas bill prohibiting minors (defined as persons under the age of 21) from obtaining tobacco in any form, a vapor product, alternative nicotine product, e-liquid product, any component of vapor, alternative nicotine, or e-liquid products, and cigarette papers passed the state legislature and was signed by the governor on March 28. The Arkansas bill also preempts local jurisdictions from adopting more restrictive provisions for tobacco products. This type of preemption has been noted as a barrier to tobacco control efforts.
  • Delaware’s legislature passed a bill restricting access to tobacco products and tobacco substitutes to individuals under 21, prohibiting the sale of tobacco products or substitutes to individuals under 21, and prohibiting individuals under 21 from entering vapor establishments. The governor signed the bill into law on April 17.
  • Illinois’s governor signed HB345 on April 8. The bill raises the age for whom tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, and alternative nicotine products may be sold to and possessed by from at least 18 to at least 21.
  • New York’s Senate and Assembly passed companion bills (S2833 and A558) to increase the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old. The bills were sent to the governor who announced his intent to sign them.
  • Utah passed a bill which tiers the minimum age for obtaining, possessing, using, providing, or furnishing tobacco products, paraphernalia, and under certain circumstances, electronic cigarettes, from age 19 to 20 and finally 21 years of age. Utah’s governor signed the bill on March 25.
  • Virginia’s companion bills (HB2748 and SB1727) increase the minimum age for persons prohibited from purchasing or possessing tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, and alternative nicotine products from 18 to 21 years of age with an exception for active duty military personnel. The bills leave in place civil penalties for those under the age of 21 who are in possession or purchase tobacco products. Questions about the impact of these types of “minor in possession” penalties have been raised, with evidence of their ability to reduce youth tobacco use are somewhat mixed. Virginia’s governor signed both bills on Feb. 21.
  • Washington state’s governor signed HB1074 on April 5, increasing the minimum legal age of sale of tobacco and vapor products from 18 to 21 years old.

In another 21 states (Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia), tobacco 21 legislation was also introduced. A list of these bills—over 40 in all—can be found here. As a result of these efforts, over 30 percent of the nation now lives in a jurisdiction with a statewide tobacco 21 law. ASTHO will continue to monitor how states and other jurisdictions are advancing and implementing tobacco 21 policies, as well as other efforts to promote comprehensive tobacco control programs.

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