Tobacco

The Consequences of Raising the Legal Age to Purchase Tobacco

11 states considering move to 21, potentially harming retailers

MINNEAPOLIS -- Although only California and Hawaii have enacted a higher legal age of 21 to purchase tobacco products, 12 other state legislators have already introduced bills in their respective 2017 legislative sessions to raise the legal age to either 19 or 21.

The lone state to propose raising the legal age from 18 to 19 is North Dakota, and that failed to pass the North Dakota House of Representatives on a 68-22 vote.

The 11 remaining states considering bills to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 are Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Washington.

While efforts to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco continues in these states, there are several very real consequences if a state were to enact a higher legal-age law.

Age-21 law would cause adults ages 18, 19 and 20 to seek other sources of tobacco:

  • Eighteen-, 19- and 20-year-olds who legally buy and use tobacco products and live in a state that raises the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 would likely travel to neighboring states where the legal adult age is lower, negating the underlying intent of a law to reduce tobacco use among young adults.
  • These younger adults would also request friends, family members and even strangers who are 21 years old or older to purchase tobacco products for them, effectively circumventing a higher legal-age law. This is known as relying on “social sources” to obtain tobacco products.

Fiscal effects of raising the legal age likely understated; retailers would lose sales:

  • According to a fiscal note prepared for the Maryland legislature, a 2014 bill that proposed raising the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to age 21 would have resulted in that state collecting an estimated $12.1 million less in cigarette and tobacco tax revenue in fiscal year 2015, $17 million less in fiscal year 2016 and even higher revenue losses in later years. The Maryland legislature did not pass the age-21 bill.
  • According to a fiscal note prepared for the New Jersey legislature, a 2014 bill that proposed raising the legal age to purchase tobacco from 19 to 21 would have resulted in the state collecting an estimated $19 million less in cigarette and tobacco tax revenue each year after the age increase would take effect. The New Jersey legislature did not pass the age-21 bill.
  • Retailers would also lose sales when young adults that are 18, 19 or 20 are no longer able to purchase tobacco. This could result in retailers being unable to pay competitive wages, laying off employees or preventing the expansion of their family-owned businesses.

Extinguishing personal-choice rights of 18-, 19- and 20-year-old adults:

  • Every current state legislator across the country is older than 21, which means that each lawmaker personally exercised a right to determine for themselves when they were 18, 19 and 20 years old whether to purchase and use legal tobacco products. However, some state lawmakers support taking that personal right away by raising the legal age. It is only fair to allow young adults to exercise the same right to decide whether to buy and use tobacco products that each current legislator made at the adult ages of 18, 19 and 20.

Age-21 bill overlooks retailer efforts to prevent access to tobacco products:

  • The claim that increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 is necessary to prevent underage youth from buying tobacco products does not take into account the outcome of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) retail compliance checks that routinely show that 95% of retailers prevent the sale of tobacco to underage youth.

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