Two States Wrestle With Tobacco-Buying Age

NATO provides state-level age-21 legislative summary

LAKEVILLE, Minn. -- During 2018, 27 state legislatures have considered bills on the legal age to purchase tobacco products. Of those states, only the Illinois and Massachusetts state legislatures passed an age-21-to-purchase bill. The Massachusetts bill was signed into law and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

On Aug. 24, however, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the legislation that would have raised the state’s legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.

“Unfortunately, this legislation will inhibit the choice of consumers while also not helping keep tobacco products out of the hands of youth,” Rauner said. Smokers would simply buy tobacco products in other states or from nonlicensed sellers if they cannot legally be purchased and that the state would lose cigarette and tobacco product tax revenue while public health problems remain an issue, he said. Moreover, because the bill would have repealed the penalty for underage youth who possess tobacco, the governor was concerned that removing this reasonable penalty would make it more difficult for communities to address the public health issues regarding tobacco use.

Twenty-four other states had age-21 bills introduced, but those did not pass, including bills in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Also this year, a bill in the Maine legislature would have reduced the legal age to purchase tobacco from 21 back to 18 just a year after the state raised the legal age to 21, but the legislation did not pass.

The six states with a legal age of purchase of 21 are California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon.


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