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. The Tobacco 21 campaign is produced and funded by the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, a public health nonprofit organization established in 1996. 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.
Established in 1996, the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation strives to reduce the terrible toll of smoking and tobacco use through a preventive effort.
Early exposure permanently alters neuro-receptors in the deepest, most ancient parts of the brain that then manifests as ongoing desire or addiction. Preventing that early inoculation requires a concerted societal and political strategy including school-based education, reduced media exposure, counter-marketing, tobacco and smoke free homes and public areas and youth access restrictions. Tobacco 21 vigorously supports all of those efforts in addition to our focus on raising the legal minimum sales age to 21.
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. Regular 16 or 17 years old high school students most likely have friends or classmates who have reached the age of 18. Smokers aged 18+ often supply tobacco products to their younger friends. Tobacco 21 law supporters believe that teenagers have much less acquaintances aged 21 who could purchase nicotine delivery products to teenagers. 
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. 
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", 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".
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 act to raise the tobacco age to 21:
- Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
- American Heart Association
- American Lung Association
- American Medical Association
- Institute of Medicine
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine
- Counter Tobacco
- Action on Smoking and Health
- Tobacco Control Legal Consortium
- Clearway Minnesota / Minnesotans For A Smoke Free Generation
- Oral Health America
- American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
- Academic Pediatric Association
- American Pediatric Society
- American Veterans (AMVETS)
- American Public Health Association
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Trust for America’s Health
- Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs
- First Focus Campaign for Children
- Pediatric Policy Council
- Society for Pediatric Research
- Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations
- Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment
- Advocacy and Leadership (APPEAL)
- Hawai‘i Medical Service Association
- Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i
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.
California became the second state to implement a statewide Tobacco 21 law. Governor Jerry Brown signed a group of bills on May 4, 2016. 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.
On October 1, 2018, Washington, D.C. raised the legal age of buying tobacco to 21. 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.
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. 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 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. The ordinance went into effect on June 1, 2016. Eight days later, California's Tobacco 21 bill went into effect statewide.
A similar organization, named Tobacco21.ca, has the aim of increasing the legal age for buying tobacco products in Canada to 21.
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- "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.
- Ellement, John. "Boston raises tobacco-buying age to 21". Boston Globe. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
- "Chicago Raises Tobacco-Buying Age to 21". NBC Chicago. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
- "City of Chicago :: Tobacco Regulations". www.cityofchicago.org. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
- "KC, Wyandotte County raise legal age for tobacco purchases to 21". Kansas City Star. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
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- "Tobacco21.ca". www.tobacco21.ca. Retrieved 11 February 2019.