Why Lawmakers Should Reject a Legal Age Increase

More states looking into raising age of purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21

MINNEAPOLIS -- Virtually every current state legislator is older than 21 years old, which means that each lawmaker was able to personally exercise a right to determine for themselves when they were 18, 19 and 20 years old whether they would purchase and use legal tobacco products. However, bills introduced this year in twenty-three states would take that personal right away from these young adults by raising the legal age to buy and use tobacco products to 21.

Of these twenty-three state bills, legislation to raise the legal age has already been defeated or died in Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota and Utah. The other seventeen states with legal-age bills still pending include Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

It is only fair to allow current young adults the opportunity to exercise the same right to decide whether to buy and use tobacco products that each current state legislator made at the adult ages of 18, 19 and 20.

However, one of the main reasons some lawmakers are proposing a new minimum age of 21 is due to a study sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and conducted by the Institute of Medicine. That study looked at raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 and also 25. There is a very important sentence in that study which states: “The parts of the brain most responsible for decision making, impulse control, sensation seeking, and susceptibility to peer pressure continue to develop and change through young adulthood…”

If lawmakers truly believe that the brain of an 18 year old adult is not capable of rationally making a decision whether to buy and use legal tobacco products, then logically those same lawmakers should support legislation raise the age to 21 for adults to vote, serve in the military, get married, obtain loans to attend college, buy lottery tickets and even make medical decisions for themselves. If they believe that 18 year olds can exercise all of these other rights and make these kinds of decisions, then the legal age to purchase tobacco products should remain at 18.

Besides the issue of allowing 18 year olds to exercise their personal freedom to make decisions for themselves, lawmakers should also be very concerned about the fiscal impact of raising the legal age to 21.

Changing the legal age to 21 would result in a significant reduction in the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products by retailers. This loss of sales will translate into lower state cigarette and tobacco tax collections. 

Below is a chart that summarizes what are called fiscal notes on state bills that proposed raising the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21. A fiscal note is an estimate prepared by a state revenue department of how a particular legislative bill will affect state tax collections. As the chart below shows, the project revenue loss to a particular state can reach the tens of millions of dollars in excise tax and sales tax revenues.

[Insert Table below here.]

Based on just the fiscal note for the Texas bill, the projected loss of cigarette excise tax revenue on the age 21 bill of $39,000,000 would translate into 28 million fewer packs of cigarettes sold by Texas retail stores. Based on these revenue loss projections, state lawmakers would need to make up such reduced tax revenue by raising other taxes or face a deficit in the cigarette and OTP budget revenue category. 

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