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Raise the Tobacco-Buying Age to 21: AAP Explains Why

​​Here's the problem: Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the US. Many high school students turn 18—the legal age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes in most states—during their senior year of high school and often purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products for younger students.

Fixing the problem: Recent tobacco control efforts have focused on raising the tobacco product purchase age to 21. The movement behind this has been referred to as Tobacco 21, and it's been gaining traction in counties, cities, and states across the country. ​

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that the tobacco product purchase age be raised to 21. Tobacco 21 laws are an easy way to save young lives! 

Fast Facts:

  • According to a 2012 Surgeon General's Report, almost 1 in 4 high school seniors is a current smoker, 1 in 10 high school senior males is a smokeless tobacco user, and 1 in 5 high school senior males is a current cigar user.

  • Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the US, including nearly 42,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about 1 in 5 deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day.

  • A 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study showed that 75% of the American public, including 70% of current smokers, supported a minimum tobacco purchase age of 21.

How Tobacco 21 Laws Can Help:

  • Youth brains are susceptible to the addictive properties of nicotine, because their brains are still developing.

  • The majority of smokers (90%) start by age 18. These young smokers often get their cigarettes from their older friends.

  • Raising the tobacco purchase age would ensure that older high school students and young college students cannot buy tobacco products for younger friends.

  • A purchase age of 21 is consistent with the laws for alcohol. Raising the legal drinking age to 21 has helped reduce drunk driving fatalities and reduce alcohol dependence among youth.

Components of a Successful Tobacco 21 Law:

  • Includes all types of tobacco products: cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, electronic nicotine delivery systems (including e-cigarettes), and hookah.

  • Includes information about who will manage compliance.

  • Does not penalize underage tobacco users for possession of tobacco products.

Support for Tobacco 21 Laws:

  • More than 120 cities and towns have adopted Tobacco 21 laws across the country.

  • In 2015, the state of Hawaii became the first US state to enact a Tobacco 21 law.

  • A Tobacco 21 bill was introduced at the federal level in 2015.

  • A survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 75% of adults favor making 21 the minimum age of sale for tobacco products—including 7 out of 10 smokers.

  • A 2015 report from the US Institute of Medicine looked at raising the tobacco product purchase age to 19, 21, and 25 and found that the biggest benefit occurred when the purchase age was raised to 21. The report found that raising the purchase age to 21 would lead to a 12% decrease in smoking prevalence.

Additional Information & Resources:​

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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