Legal age to buy tobacco could become 21: good idea?


As an ex-smoker who misses it, I’m probably the wrong person to write this topic but I’m going to give it my best. The United States Congress is very close to signing a bill that will raise the legal age to buy tobacco in all 50 United States to 21. Currently, 19 states have already raised the tobacco age to 21 but over 530 cities in 31 states have mandated the age within their city limits, so much of the country is already on board with this. The provision being added to a congressional spending bill would prevent anyone from selling tobacco, cigarette and e-cigarette products to adults under the age of 21.

A year-end congressional spending bill expected to pass this week includes a provision that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, multiple outlets report.

The provision would prohibit retailers from selling tobacco products — including cigarettes and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21 years old if it passes Congress, according to CBS News and The Washington Post.

NBC News reports that the measure has bipartisan support in Congress, including from Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. President Donald Trump has also previously supported the idea of raising the legal tobacco-buying age, according to the Post.

The Post reports that the measure was first introduced by McConnell and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia in May, but has picked up more support after the recent wave of vaping-related illnesses and deaths.

“Since I introduced my legislation earlier this year to raise the minimum nationwide purchase age for tobacco products from 18 to 21, stories of vaping related illnesses and deaths — especially among young people — have stunned Kentucky and the nation,” McConnell said in a statement, according to CBS News.

“I’m grateful to the communities, the health advocates and my fellow elected officials, including President Trump and Senators Todd Young and Mitt Romney, who have joined Senator Kaine and me to address this urgent crisis and keep these dangerous products away from our children,” the statement continued.

[From People]

There are a lot of good things about this provision. It is a bipartisan bill and we just don’t get many of those anymore. So it’s nice to be reminded that our government officials can actually work together as they were elected to do. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academics conducted a study, at the request of the Food and Drug Administration, to find the benefits of raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access (MLA) to tobacco products. The study, which began in 2013, found significant public health implication if access to tobacco is delayed until 21. That seems to be the magic number as raising it to 25 seemed to have an adverse effect. So there is data to back up this decision. Since some high school seniors turn 18 before they graduate and can buy for their younger classmates, the raised age would, presumably, help prevent tobacco getting into younger hands. Plus, smoking is bad for you, I do know that.

But just to play Devil’s Advocate – the Kentucky Turtle is heading this thing and my knee-jerk reaction to anything he does is to oppose it. But I recognize that is not the way I should approach matters of state. However, the studies cited suggest a positive public health impact based on the first cigarette being delayed until the age of 21. So the real question is, will raising the MLA age prevent those under 21 from getting cigarettes? I had my first one at the age of 10 and never had trouble getting cigarettes when I wanted them. As many of us discussed during the San Francisco vape ban, is anything really effective for those who want to get to it? Congress got the MLA provision by agreeing to repeal the Cadillac tax, which helps fund the ACA, so I want to make sure it was worth it.




Photo credit: Pamela Araujo, Connor Danylenko, Artyom Kulakov and Darius Krause from Pexels

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47 Responses to “Legal age to buy tobacco could become 21: good idea?”

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  1. Cdog says:

    I think the minimum age for the draft, child labor laws, etc should go up to 21 as well then. It doesn’t make sense to say someone isn’t old enough to make life choices (alcohol, cigarettes) at 18 but still adult enough for other huge life choices and events.

    • Astrid says:

      Yup, totally agree. I’m on board with upping the age for health reasons for alcohol and smokes, so the age for draft and child labor laws should also go up. We can’t have kids serving at 18 and not be able to make other life choices.

    • egot says:

      Also guns

    • Claire says:

      Also realign the legal system to reflect 21 as the threshold to be tried as an adult.

    • Jess says:

      I completely agree. 18 is too damn young to literally sign your life away, and the military knows that.

    • Sarah B says:

      This topic came up in Texas (I work for the legislature) and they made an exception: You can be 18 and purchase cigarettes if you are in the military. Otherwise Senate Bill 21 changed the age to 21 this year.

    • Amy Too says:

      Was going to say the same thing. You shouldn’t be able to die for your country as a teenager if you’re not trusted to make decisions about alcohol and cigarettes and gambling. Plus, we could get recruiters out of high schools if the age to join the military was increased to 21.

    • Nicegirl says:

      I agree with @CDog

    • Kimberly says:

      disagree. That argument is extremely shallow and juvenile. Defending our country is not the same as choosing to consume a known poison, and needing health insurance to cover the ramifications of the that poison. In the military, it is not your choice to be fired upon…Tabacco is not a stress reliever either. It ultimately causes anxiety and does not remedy it.

      7 years smoke free…

      • MachineElf says:

        Your argument is shallow and juvenile. You make no valid points. You just insult and belittle. You can’t even spell “Tabacoo” right. Then you point out with dramatic ellipses that you haven’t smoked for 7 years. Congratulations. you still can’t win an argument to save your life.

      • Baby Jane says:

        Defending the country from what, exactly? Losing points in the Violent Global Hegemony Competition?

      • Kimberly says:

        hahahahaha cigarettes smokers are bitter….I know… used to be just as bitter and defensive….no worries though. merry Christmas!!!

    • MyHiddles says:


    • zotsioltar says:

      This 100%

      If you cant get drunk or high legally, than you should not be eligible to die for your country either.

  2. manda says:

    I miss smoking too! I don’t know your age, but I am 43, and when I was 10, they were everywhere too. Today, not so much. I think it will probably be harder for young people to get them if this happens, because law enforcement actually enforces these things now. When I was 23, I worked with teens, many of whom smoked and were able to buy at stores that didn’t care that you needed to be 16 or 18 or whatever the age limit was when I was 23. I think enforcement is up, random people smoking all around is down (which means less chance of being able to bum or steal ciggies from others), and so this will probably help the momentum of those two thing, which will keep smoking down. Not to mention, every teen I know now thinks smoking is disgusting, which is why I actually think this is sort of not worth the effort. I think about how much I miss smoking literally every day

    • Lady D says:

      It will be six years for me in January, after a 33 year habit, from 20-53yo. I’ve reached the point where I think about having/needing a cigarette about once a month. There are still unexpected triggers, such as walking past someone who has just thrown their cigarette in the ditch. I walk by completely focused on that burning butt and nothing else. I could walk into a pole and I’d still watch that cig burn. Or catch someone in a movie smoking, but these are rare. Every once in a while, I can still feel one between my fingers. I take an imaginary puff, and get a brief imaginary rush from it, then go on with my day.

    • Eliza_ says:

      It’s definitely harder. We had family visiting from Europe who grew up here. They were so annoyed in NYC because it’s changed so much. Yelled at for smoking everywhere. For me I’m happy it’s not longer in restaurants, outside buildings, because I don’t smoke. But for smokers it’s harder to find spots and afford cigarettes.

    • Desdemona says:

      I’ve quittted smoking only 8 months ago, I never remember to smoke… These couple of days were really stressful, I’m a teacher and it’s time for meetings and all the paperwork related to evaluation. The grading computer system crashed several times and I didn’t remember smoking or felt like it once in these days…I’m astonished… Though chocolates have made my day,,, :)

  3. Emily says:

    I understand why older people smoke/smoked because they didn’t know the health effects. Why any young person would do it today, knowing full well. I HATE walking down the street and having cigarette or pot smoke blow down wind at me. Just make it illegal already for anyone under 35 because they should know better.

  4. mellie says:

    Yes, smoking is disgusting and so harmful to ones health. My dad has a COPD as a result of smoking since he was 14 years old. I’m sure kids will find a way to get cigarettes, but any deterrent is a good idea, in my opinion.

  5. SJR says:

    Agree, legal age for draft, smoking, alcohol should all be 21.
    Under 21 y/o will still find away to get cigs and booze but, it is ridiculous to have an 18 serve in the military but not be able to buy items.

    Many family members have passed from cancer, and yet my niece and her daughter and son all smoke. So sad. Clearly the effects on health have been widely known for decades now.

    Plus, nasty and smelly to everyone who comes in contact.

    • Ready2Go says:

      My husband was in the army and we were stationed in Germany for 3 years. It was a very sought after posting for new recruits bc they wanted to be able to drink at 18. I think if you’re old enough to decide to put your life on the line for our country, then you should be able to smoke and drink.

  6. Redgrl says:

    I take the view that by upping the age it makes it more enticing to teens. As a teen-after my mother always said to me smoke if you want to – and that took the “rebel” away so I didn’t.. I realize that’s a different experience than those who were heavy smokers and struggled to quit. I also look at the alcohol example – in Canada the drinking age is either 18 or 19 depending on the province. Every year American college kids come rushing up on spring break or ski weeks and drink their faces off – because the US drinking age is 21. Banning alcohol during college/university/young adulthood causes all manner of social problems for the US (binge drinking in colleges etc) so I think doing this with cigarettes will have the same effect. Better solution is to up the taxes on it, which has happened in Canada. Pot was just legalized in Canada and we haven’t turned into a nation of pot heads either…Only caveat I have to that is vaping – more studies need to be done re that and it may end up that that needs to be banned outright as too dangerous.

    • Lady D says:

      Smoking rates are dropping all over Canada, too. Well except for Nunavut where over 62% of the population smokes. The Canadian average is 15%. I think in another 20-25 years, smokers will be very rare in Canada.

  7. Snazzy says:

    So as someone who was a heavy smoker – like 2 packs a day (smoke free 7 years ago as of Dec 6th!), I have to say I am pleased with this, but I don’t think it’ll change much, because like you said, when you want them, you find them. I used to steal my dad’s smokes until I was old enough to buy my own. I think such measures should be paired up with making the purchase of cigarettes more prohibitive. In the year I stopped smoking, in Switzerland cigarettes costed 7 CHF ( about equivalent to the USD) a pack. I remember when I was visiting NYC, it was like 12 or 13 USD a pick. Kick that shit up, tax them to hell, make them cost double what they do now. The government will get much needed tax revenue, and it will make this dangerous product that much more difficult to buy.

    I mean, the ideal solution would be to ban them all together as a public health hazard, but I imagine the tobacco lobby is too strong to allow that to happen.

    PS as the others said here, I do miss smoking as well. I don’t think you ever REALLY become a non smoker … you just don’t need it anymore.

    • Lady D says:

      The brand I smoked had two types, one slightly cheaper. They now run $13 to $16 a pack. That’s approximately $5 grand a year. I can’t imagine sitting down and burning $5000, one bill at a time, but that’s basically what I did.

  8. Swack says:

    As I was growing up the age was 21 to buy cigarettes. It does not stop those who truly want to smoke. For those on the edge of smoking or not it may be a deterrent. I agree with others about raising ages for other things also. Must say if you raise the draft age to 21 you should raise the age to enter the military to 21 also as many enter after high school without the draft (as my grandson did).

    • Bookworm says:

      Many many young people enter the military at 18 because of the educational and training benefits. Why should they wait three more years to work on those goals?

      My nephew went into the Army at 18, learned to be a mechanic, and got his bachelors in accounting by the time his six-year term was over. No student loans, has both a technical trade and a business degree.

      Of course there is risk but there’s risk in non military life also.

      • Swack says:

        Lile I said, my grandson joined right out of high school also (year and a half ago). My point is, if you are going to not draft until 21 then is an 18 year old mature enough to decide to joined the armed services and possibly put their lives on the line. Some are, some aren’t. And if we had free college in this country, student debt would not be a problem. Maybe that is something that should be worked on but probably won’t be.

  9. lucy2 says:

    I hate smoke – I have an allergic reaction to it, and get horrible headaches and a sore throat too. It’s so bad for everyone’s health, the smoker and those around them. If this will help curb more younger people from smoking, I’m all for it. Right now though, the vaping seems to be a much worse problem, so I hope that fad goes away too.

  10. Jess says:

    I think it’s a great idea, sure you can still get them but it is harder. Every smoker I know started before they were 20, I think you mature a lot in those few years. I hope the younger generations are seeing how devastating it is to your health and your wallet and just kick that habit altogether.

    God I miss smoking so much, if I make it to 90 I fully plan on smoking at least a pack a day. I especially miss it when I drink, which is rare, partially because I can’t stand the mental torture of wanting to smoke, they go so well together.

    • Snazzy says:

      OMG yes when I drink it’s the worst. Like you, it’s actually the reason I don’t drink that much, because drinking makes me want to smoke. Also, funny how the mind works. When I used to smoke, and I had an evening where I had drunk a lot, the next morning my throat would be scratchy and sore from all the cigarettes I smoked that night. To this day, even if I don’t smoke anymore, if I drink too much, the next morning I have the same feeling in my throat – as though I’d smoked a pack over the course of an evening.

  11. Charfromdarock says:

    I think anything that makes it more difficult to access is good.

    Do teens smoke as much anymore?
    When I was a kid almost all my friends were smoking at 12. It wasn’t hard to get a draw.
    Fortunately it has always repulsed me.

    We have very strict laws about where you can smoke in my province. Essentially you can’t smoke in public including streets, parks, pubs and restaurants or in a home or car with minor/s. Rates have dropped about 10%.

    I rarely see or smell smoke. It always shocks me when I travel other places and people are smoking out in the open.

    • Lady D says:

      Only 15% of BC smokes, Char. I rarely see smokers too. Most of the smokers I see, are outside their cars at Timmy’s or on the edges of a gas station smoking while someone fills their cars. I remember the howling when BC decided to ban smoking in bars, bingo halls, movie theatres, etc. No one would have customers, everybody was going to lose their jobs… I remember smoking in Chilliwack General hospital, inside patient’s rooms. I’m glad they are going away.
      ot: based on your name, I’m assuming you are from White Rock? Beautiful area.

  12. Alexa says:

    Yes to this.

    Also while they are at it can they please increase the age of consent to 21?

    • Amy Too says:

      By age of consent do you mean that people under the age of 21 can’t have sex with anyone over the age of 21, as in statutory rape laws would be stricter? Or do you mean that people shouldn’t be allowed to have sex at all with anyone until they’re 21? I wouldn’t support the latter. I think it’s a normal part of growing up and figuring out your sexuality for teens and college students to have sex with other teens and college students. I would absolutely like stricter or more detailed laws about statutory rape and who is allowed to have sex with people under the age of 18 or 21, but I also think that would be tricky to legislate. What if you’re 20 and you have a 25 year old boyfriend? That seems okay to me. But if you’re 15 with a 20 year old boyfriend, that seems not okay to me. I think I’d want something that says the only people allowed to have sex with people under the age of 18 are other people under the age of 18, and the only people allowed to have sex with people between the ages of 18-21 are people who are not more than 5 years older than them. Also, no one is allowed to get married until they’re 21. No exceptions for “I have her parents’ permission.”

  13. smcollins says:

    I live in Maryland where it’s already been passed. Those over 18 but under 21 before it goes into effect won’t be grandfathered in, so to speak. They’re just S.O.L and won’t be able to buy cigarettes anymore, the only exception (I believe) being those in the military.

    • Lady D says:

      They banned smoking in prisons in BC in 2005. There were riots and lockdowns and now no one in prison can smoke inside. Some do allow outside smoking but the max security institutions in BC are completely smoke free.
      The inmates were given non-smoking aids such as gum or patches.

  14. Deana says:

    For those of us with a significant smoking history, or current smokers, please look into lung screening. It could save your life, or the life of someone you love.

  15. Allie says:

    Kids start smoking in their teens, way before they are 18. It does not make a difference if the legal age for smoking is 18 or 21. If they want to smoke they will.

  16. Arpeggi says:

    At some point, we have to agree that a legal adult is a legal adult and let them decide for themselves. If you’re old enough to vote, receive a life sentence, enroll in the military, get married or drive (16 is too young IMO), then you’re old enough to decide if you want to drink or smoke. Most smokers start wayyy before they’re 18 anyway, the legal age has never been a deterrent, just like most people don’t wait until they’re 18/19 or 21 to have their 1st beer. It’s hypocritical and patronizing to treat legal adults that way. It’s also ineffective from a health policy perspective since, again, smokers start before they can legally purchase cigarettes. Ban advertising, put giant pictures of cancerous lungs on the packs with a reminder that it causes ED, get rid of the funfetti-flavoured vaping cartridges: that’ll be effective for smokers of all ages

  17. Bronson says:

    The legal age for buying / smoking tobacco has been 21 in California for a while now already, and I haven’t seen it deter smoking at all for any age group. Not even the $13.00 price tag for a pack of cigarettes deters it. I do think the legal age of 21 is a good idea though.

  18. No Doubt says:

    It is 21 in New York. I think it’s a good idea, but kids will always find a way to get it. Just like with booze.