Texas recently enacted a law increasing the legal smoking age. Senate Bill 21 was signed into law June 7, 2019, prohibiting the sale of any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21.
Texas joins 14 other states in increasing the smoking age to 21. These types of laws are informally referred to as “Tobacco 21” laws. Other states that increased the age requirement for tobacco purchases include:
- New Jersey
At least 470 cities and towns within the United States similarly enacted local laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21.
A report by a United States study group provides evidence that makes it difficult to argue against tobacco 21 laws:
- 88.5% of smokers began smoking before age 21
- Increasing the legal age to 21 has been shown to reduce smoking in the 18 to 21 age group
- Tobacco 21 laws reduce the chances of smoking in adolescents and children under 18 because it reduces their sources for tobacco products (which are often their peers)
- Tobacco 21 laws will likely reduce overall smoking-related premature deaths in young people by about 10%. Similarly, there is an anticipated impact on the burden of smoking-related disease and illness in youth through their lifetime
Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrated the urgency of measures to reduce smoking among young people:
- 27.1% of high school students in 2018 used tobacco products
- Tobacco product use among youth increased by 38.3% from 2017 to 2018 (due to e-cigarette use)
The CDC data spotlights the dangerous role that e-cigarette use has among youth:
- E-cigarette use among high school students increased from 11.7% to 20.8% in one year (2017-2018)
- E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product by young Americans
- One Juul pod (Juul is the most commonly used e-tobacco brand in the United States) is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes
- Juul products are sold in flavors and easy-to-conceal devices that appeal to young Americans
A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted evidence that the tobacco mega-industry specifically targets children and youth:
- Children and youth constitute one of the “battlegrounds” for competition for customers among tobacco companies
- The tobacco industry studied marketing approaches targeting children as young as five
- The tobacco industry investigated ways to prevent teenagers from quitting smoking
- Many of the largest and most successful tobacco advertising campaigns were directed at young Americans
- The tobacco industry investigated how to translate young Americans’ anxieties into tobacco use
The WHO data, with statements taken directly from tobacco industry documents, provides a shocking, detailed view of the degree to which the tobacco industry continues to prey on America’s youth. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded in a 2015 policy statement that tobacco dependence is a pediatric disease.
Tobacco 21 laws are not receiving any pushback from those they affect most: America’s youth. A 2017 survey of American youth demonstrated that 77.8% of American adolescents ages 13 to 17 across all regions of the United States — including those who smoke — support the increase in the legal smoking age.
Overall, the data demonstrates that the tobacco industry has blatantly preyed on American youth and continues to do so. The arrival of e-cigarettes has only worsened the impact of their efforts. Tobacco 21 laws are one way that state and municipal governments can provide long overdue protection to America’s vulnerable youth. These laws will have a lasting impact on the health and longevity of Americans throughout the lifespan.
American Academy of Pediatrics. “Clinical practice policy to protect children from tobacco, nicotine, and tobacco smoke.” AAP Policy Statement, November 2015. Accessed June 21, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Tobacco use by youth is rising: E-cigarettes are the main reason.” Vital Signs, February 2019. Accessed June 21, 2019.
Gaita, Paul. “Texas raises legal smoking age to 21.” The Fix, June 11, 2019. Accessed June 21, 2019.
Kowitt, Sarah; Schmidt, Allison; Myers, Allison; et al. “Should the legal age for tobacco be raised? Results from a national sample of adolescents.” Preventing Chronic Disease, November 16, 2017. Accessed June 21, 2019.
U.S. Committee on the Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age for Purchasing Tobacco Products. “Public health implications of raising the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products.” July 23, 2015. Accessed June 21, 2019.
World Health Organization. “Tobacco explained: The truth about the tobacco industry… in its own words.” 2019. Accessed June 21, 2019.