Sixteen States Seek To Raise Tobacco-Purchase Age

Sixteen States Seek To Raise Tobacco-Purchase Age
More state lawmakers join nationwide movement to increase purchase age

Several states will consider raising the minimum age for purchasing cigars, cigarettes and other tobacco products in 2018. While federal law prohibits tobacco sales to persons under the age of 18, lawmakers in 16 states have introduced legislation that would establish a minimum purchase age above the national standard.

So far this year, legislation that seeks to adopt a 21-year-old minimum has been introduced in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. (There are also carryover bills in Illinois, Nebraska and New York that were introduced in 2017 and are still active.) In Tennessee, lawmakers are seeking a more modest increase with a bill that would raise its purchase age to 19 years old.

“The introduction of age-increase legislation is on the rise at the state and local levels,” said Rachel Hyde, senior director of state affairs at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association.

In March of last year, nearly half of the United States had some form of active legislation that sought to increase the purchase age. Most did not become law, but 2017 was still a breakthrough year for those in favor of the age increase. Legislation succeeded in New Jersey, Maine and Oregon, bringing the number of states with a minimum purchase age of 21 from two to five. Hawaii and California were the first states to raise the age of purchase to 21; both laws went into effect in 2016.

Lawmakers have received support from advocacy groups like the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation and its Tobacco 21 coalition. This particular group cites studies like the Institute of Medicine’s Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products that supports its argument in favor of a nationwide increase. Raising the smoking age to 21, according to the Institute of Medicine, would result in “approximately 223,000 fewer premature deaths...for those born between 2000 and 2019.”

While most lobbyists in the premium cigar industry are not in favor of an age increase, some believe these laws won’t harm retailers, as premium cigars are not popular with the 18 to 21 demographic.

“Age 19 to 21, 18 to 21 [and] 18 to 19 increases are arbitrary, and ban adult access to legal products. We remain committed to preventing youth access, not adult access to tobacco products,” said Hyde.

Premium cigar advocates also fear that lawmakers and anti-smoking groups, if successful, will not stop at 21. The Cigar Association of America cites a study by the Institute of Medicine—included in the same report mentioned by the Tobacco 21 coalition—that analyzed the public health outcomes of raising the minimum age to 25 years old.

This study was contracted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency that now holds regulatory control over the tobacco industry.