Many state politicians have been actively introducing bills to raise the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco and tobacco related products to 21. This initiative, named Tobacco 21, seeks to prohibit the purchase of tobacco and nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, to all persons under the age of 21.
What Is Tobacco 21?
The Tobacco 21 campaign defines a list of policies its proponents aim to see enacted alongside the raising of the minimum legal sales age to 21, including:
- A requirement for retailers and their clerks to utilize strict age verification protocol when selling tobacco products.
- The creation of an enforcement body whose sole purpose would be to ensure adherence to the law by retailers and dispense proper punishment should any violations occur./li>
- Provide for state, county and city inspections of retailers to monitor continued compliance.
Tobacco 21 suggests drawing its funding from fees associated with the institution of a licensing requirement to be obtained by retailers wishing to continue selling tobacco products. The initiative also seeks to instill penalties on retailers and licensees rather than the youth attempting to purchase the products with a shift from the criminal penalty standard for youth violations to a civil penalty, removing any potential hardships faced for having a criminal record due to illegal tobacco purchases.
How Much Ground Has Tobacco 21 Gained?
The Tobacco 21 initiative has been successful in many states, counties and cities across the country, as seen in the map below with statewide age 21 restrictions highlighted in yellow, and varying age restrictions highlighted in green.
In 2015, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law increasing the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco and/or tobacco related products to 21, with California following suit in 2016.
Statewide Tobacco 21 Legislation
Since then, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine, Illinois, Delaware and Massachusetts have all also followed suit in raising the minimum age has been raised to 21. Other states have also passed measures to raise the legal purchase age to 21, including Arkansas, Texas, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Washington and Utah; however, those measures have yet to be enacted. Utah’s new age requirement takes effect in July 2021; however, lawmakers have been pushing the initiative for the last six years and even implemented a total ban against purchasing e-cigs online in 2016 in an effort to combat youth vaping – even though online retailers have access to technology that can help prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors.
For example, here at White Cloud, we recognized the issues with selling electronic cigarettes online long before the implementation of local and state laws regulating the purchasing age (we even included a “We Card” sign and checked IDs at our mall kiosks from the very beginning, even though there were no laws set in place telling us to do so). In an effort to ensure we were selling our products to adults only, >we teamed up with LexisNexis to develop a sophisticated age verification process, which has proven quite successful. If we can’t verify the age of the purchaser, we don’t send them our products. It’s as simple as that. We’ve even caught a few minors trying to purchase e-cigs with their parents’ information (and even received an apology from one teen for trying to purchase with his parent’s credit card – imagine that!)
Citywide Tobacco 21 Legislation
Many American metropolises have also implemented the increased tobacco sales age. Cities such as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Cleveland have all joined in on the Tobacco 21 movement. Further, in May 2019, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a bill to the Senate seeking to increase the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco and tobacco related products from 18 to 21. It’s worth noting that legislators in Senator McConnell’s home state of Kentucky quashed a similarly styled bill in its state congress earlier this year.
The Tobacco 21 wave does not seem to be dying down as many initiatives are popping up in several remaining states. Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia all have Tobacco 21 measures up for vote in their respective congresses.
What Are the Pitfalls of Tobacco 21 Legislation?
The Tobacco 21 initiative has been put forth with good intent. Parents want to protect their children from youthful experimentation, from the mistakes their parents made in their own youth. However, is more legislation the right answer?
Laws are already in place for regulating the sales of tobacco and tobacco related products to minors, those under the age of 18. If the issue is the sale of tobacco related products to America’s youth, the current regulations should be strictly enforced. Policies penalizing retailers for the sale of tobacco products to minors have already been enacted, and they should be actively enforced. Increase the penalties on retail outlet owners. Perhaps the fear of incurring penalties in the form of significant monetary fines would force the owners to hire employees who follow the current standard of law. Changing the minimum age to 21 does not guarantee the clerks selling tobacco products will now suddenly comply with the new regulations.
Another significant issue with Tobacco 21 legislation is the inclusion of smoking cessation devices with standard tobacco related products. E-cigarettes have generally been accepted as a healthier alternative to tobacco use – even the American Cancer Society publicly recognized this in a statement that read, “…some smokers, despite firm clinician advice, will not attempt to quit smoking cigarettes and will not use FDA approved cessation medications…these individuals should be encouraged to switch to the least harmful form of tobacco product possible.”
Treating cigarettes and e-cigarettes equally under the Tobacco 21 laws misleads consumers into believing cigarettes and e-cigarettes are the same product with the same hazards. If the goal is to eventually end all smoking (and smoking rates have been steadily declining and hitting record lows since the introduction of e-cigarettes), the means to that end is to enhance education, not expand prohibition.