State and Local Update on Minimum Purchase Age

19 states have pre-emption laws preventing cities from raising the minimum age

MINNEAPOLIS -- This year, an increasing number of state legislatures and local city councils and town boards have considered raising the legal age to buy or use tobacco. These proposals have included raising the legal age to either 19 or 21.

Tobacco Purchase Age

The main reasons for this new trend include the adoption of a minimum age 21 to purchase tobacco products in New York City and the FDA-sponsored Institute of Medicine study that researched the public health impact of raising the legal age to 21 or 25 and concluded that raising the legal age to 21 would reduce the number of underage youth that begin using tobacco products.

Currently, four states have 19 as the minimum age including Alaska, Alabama, New Jersey, and Utah. This summer, Hawaii became the first state to pass a bill setting the minimum age at 21 to buy or use tobacco products. The Hawaii law takes effect on January 1, 2016.

This year, 11 other state legislatures have had bills introduced to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products. Bills have been defeated or died due to adjournment in Iowa and Texas (both bills proposed raising the legal age to 19) and Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington (all of which considered bills to set the minimum age at 21). Bills to raise the legal age to 21 are still pending in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.

Besides state legislators, city councils and town boards in ten states have adopted a higher legal age, with most adopting age 21. This includes one city each in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, and Missouri, two cities each in California, New York, Ohio, and Washington, twelve cities in New Jersey, and seventy-seven cities and towns in Massachusetts.

However, there are states that have what are called pre-emption laws that do not allow a city or county to adopt a more restrictive regulation than current state law. This means that cities and towns in states with pre-emption laws are precluded from adopting a local law to raise the minimum legal purchase age. States with these pre-emption laws include California, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Despite a state pre-emption law on the books, Healdsburg, California and Santa Clara County, California both adopted age 21 laws, even after NATO informed the local lawmakers that they were precluded from doing so by California’s pre-emption law. NATO is sending the local officials in Healdsburg and Santa Clara County an additional letter requesting that they rescind the minimum age ordinances due to the California state pre-emption law.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a CSP member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.

Related Content


More from our partners