This month, Oregon became the fifth U.S. state to raise the legal smoking age to 21, following a growing trend to crack down on pre-teen and teenage smoking. If studies prove correct, these measures could result in a drastic reduction in smoking-related deaths. These new regulations will have implications for both consumers and retailers alike.
Why Change the Legal Smoking Age?
Of course, it’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for your health but that doesn’t seem to stop scores of young people from picking up this addictive habit. This is the entire point of raising the smoking age, and it is supported by recent studies proving that making people wait to make this lifestyle choice saves lives.
A 2015 study by the National Institute of Medicine found that making kids wait until age 21 to buy tobacco products could save as many as 249,000 lives each year from premature death. The study also predicted that this change would result in 45,000 fewer lives lost to lung cancer.
According to the research, most people who smoke began doing so before the age of 19, and 100% of smokers had picked up the habit by age 26. 21 is the best choice to restrict sales because many teens that begin smoking get their tobacco products from a relative or friend that is old enough to purchase them.
Where the Smoking Age Has Been Changed to 21
In August, Oregon governor Kate Brown signed a bill making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase tobacco products in the state. The law will go into effect in 2018.
Also in August, Maine’s legislature had enough votes on a bill to change the state’s smoking age to 21, despite threats of a veto by Gov. Paul LePage. Oregon and Maine now join three other U.S. states, California, Hawaii, and New Jersey, in raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. More than 100 towns in Massachusetts have also made this move. California has a smoking age exemption for military personnel, for whom the age restriction remains 18.
What the Future Holds for Smoking Laws
Other U.S. states that are considering passing similar “Tobacco 21” legislation include Utah, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Each state has bills in various stages of committee, which may or may not eventually become law.
Canada regulates its legal smoking ages by territory, and those currently range between 18 and 19 years old. In early 2017, the Canadian government suggested moving the legal smoking age to 21 in an effort to achieve a national smoking rate of 5% by 2035. Currently, Canada’s smoking rate is 13%.
The Effects of the New Smoking Laws
It’s not surprising that there is a great deal of support for these new laws that are meant to protect teens from smoking. In fact, the CDC reports that as many as three-quarters of former smokers support the change and 69% of current smokers want to see the age increased. When the town of Needham, Massachusetts increased its smoking age to 21, the rate of smoking among high school teens dropped nearly in half.
When access to tobacco products is restricted, there is an additional burden placed upon retailers and proprietors of stores that sell these items. In fact, some of the legislation extends beyond cigarettes to include such things as cigars, chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes, vaporizers, and even rolling papers. The best way for store owners and employees to remain in compliance with the new laws is to stay current on their state’s ID laws, know how to spot fake IDs, and have a process in place for ID validation.
While smoking rates continue to drop nationwide as some businesses and cities take it upon themselves to declare “smoke-free” zones, new laws are tackling the problem of teen smoking head on. As the evidence suggests, these higher minimum legal ages for smoking can reduce use and save lives, and we are already seeing results in some areas.