Tobacco 21

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Tobacco 21 is a national campaign aimed at raising the minimum legal age (MLA) for tobacco and nicotine sales in the United States to 21.[1] As of 2019, the campaign is obsolete, as the minimum age to purchase tobacco products has been federally raised to 21.[2] The campaign continues to be produced and funded by the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, a public health nonprofit organization established in 1996.[3] Tobacco 21 produces online content to promote anti-tobacco messages and helps communities around the United States raise the tobacco and nicotine sales age to 21.

Several national non-profit organizations, including the American Cancer Society in Oregon,[4] have supported raising the tobacco and nicotine sales age to 21 in different states.


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.[5] Adult smokers may supply tobacco products to younger consumers.[citation needed] Tobacco 21 law supporters believe that teenagers have much less acquaintances aged 21 who could purchase nicotine delivery products to teenagers.[6][unreliable source?]

The chosen age limit also has a successful precedent in the alcohol industry. The U.S.-wide legal age of 21 for the purchase of alcohol products resulted in reduced consumption among young people, as well as decreased alcohol addiction and drunk driving cases. It is expected that raising the sales age for tobacco and nicotine delivery systems will have similar success.[citation needed]

Scientific support[edit]

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",[7] 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".[8]


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:

State and national movements[edit]


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.[24]

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 2000-2019.

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-$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 18-21.[25]


California became the second state to implement a statewide Tobacco 21 law. Governor Jerry Brown signed a group of bills on May 4, 2016.[26] 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.[edit]

On October 1, 2018, Washington, D.C., raised the legal age of buying tobacco to 21.[27] This was paired with raising the tax on cigarettes by 68% – to $4.94.

National minimum age increase[edit]

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]

Local movements[edit]


In 2005, Needham, Massachusetts became the first locality to pass and enact a Tobacco 21 policy.[28]

New York City[edit]

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.[29] 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.[30] Boston's Tobacco 21 law went into effect on February 15, 2016.


In March 2016, Chicago passed its Tobacco 21 ordinance.[31] The law went into effect on July 1, 2016.[32]

Kansas City[edit]

Kansas City approved its Tobacco 21 bill on November 19, 2015 and quickly put it into effect a week later on November 26.[33]


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.[34]

San Francisco[edit]

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.[35] 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[edit]

A similar organization, named,[36] has the aim of increasing the legal age for buying tobacco products in Canada to 21.


  1. ^ "Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation - About US". Tobacco 21. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Tobacco 21". FDA. 21 February 2020. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  3. ^ "Tobacco 21 - Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation". Tobacco 21. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  4. ^ (March 18, 2016). "American Cancer Society Wants Oregon to Raise Tobacco Age". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  5. ^ "Mental Health and Substance Abuse Data". January 16, 2020.
  6. ^ "Vaping Laws: How Old Do You Need to Be to Vape". February 13, 2020.
  7. ^ "Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products" (PDF). Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  8. ^ Winickoff, Jonathan P.; Gottlieb, Mark; Mello, Michelle M. (23 January 2014). "Tobacco 21 — An Idea Whose Time Has Come". New England Journal of Medicine. 370 (4): 295–297. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1314626. PMID 24401021.
  9. ^ "INCREASING THE MINIMUM LEGAL SALE AGE FOR TOBACCO PRODUCTS TO 21" (PDF). Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  10. ^ "States Should Heed Strong Support for Raising Tobacco Age of Sale, Says American Heart Association". American Heart Association. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  11. ^ "Statement from National President and CEO of the American Lung Association Harold P. Wimmer, in response to the IOM Report "Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products"". American Lung Association. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  12. ^ "AMA Strengthens Policy on Electronic Cigarettes to Further Protect Youth". American Medical Association. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  13. ^ "Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products". National Academies. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  14. ^ "Tobacco Use, Prevention and Cessation". American Academy of Family Physicians. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  15. ^ "The American Academy of Pediatrics Issues Sweeping Recommendations on Tobacco and E-Cigarettes". American Academy of Pediatricians. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  16. ^ "Senators Schatz, Durbin, Brown, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Raise Smoking Age to 21: Raising Smoking Age to 21 Would Lead to 4.2 Million Fewer Years of Life Lost". Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  17. ^ "RAISING THE MINIMUM LEGAL SALE AGE TO 21". Counter Tobacco. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  18. ^ "Increasing the Minimum Age". Action on Smoking and Health. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  19. ^ "In Our View: Raise Smoking Age to 21". Action on Smoking and Health. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  20. ^ "Sales Restrictions". Public Health Law Center. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  21. ^ "Increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21" (PDF). Clearway Minnesota. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  22. ^ "Take Action – Support Tobacco 21 Legislation". Oral Health America. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Senators Schatz, Durbin, Brown, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Raise Smoking Age to 21: Raising Smoking Age to 21 Would Lead to 4.2 Million Fewer Years of Life Lost". Brian Schatz. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  24. ^ CNN (April 2015). "Hawaii set to become first state to raise smoking age to 21 Sheet". CNN. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  25. ^ LA Times (May 4, 2016). "California's smoking age raised from 18 to 21 under bills signed by Gov. Brown". LA Times. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  26. ^ Erin Cox; Peter Jamison (30 September 2018). "New laws: Gun restrictions in Maryland, tax hikes in D.C." The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  27. ^ Berman, Micah L. (2016). "Raising the Tobacco Sales Age to 21: Surveying the Legal Landscape". Public Health Reports. 131 (2): 378–381. doi:10.1177/003335491613100223. ISSN 0033-3549. PMC 4765989.
  28. ^ "New Law Prohibiting Sale of Cigarettes, Tobacco Products and Electronic Cigarettes to People Under Age 21 in New York City What You Need to Know" (PDF). New York City. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  29. ^ Ellement, John. "Boston raises tobacco-buying age to 21". Boston Globe. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  30. ^ "Chicago Raises Tobacco-Buying Age to 21". NBC Chicago. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  31. ^ "City of Chicago :: Tobacco Regulations". Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  32. ^ "KC, Wyandotte County raise legal age for tobacco purchases to 21". Kansas City Star. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  33. ^ "Cleveland bans tobacco, e-cigarette sales to people under 21".
  34. ^ CNN (March 2016). "San Francisco raises smoking age to 21". CNN. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  35. ^ "". Retrieved 11 February 2019.

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