State Legislation Surrounding Tobacco At 21 Laws

August 17, 2017|3:23 p.m.| ASTHO State Health Policy Staff

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. In 2015, a report from the Institute of Medicine estimated that there would be 249,000 fewer premature deaths if 21 became the nationwide minimum age of sale for tobacco products. Since that report, states and local jurisdictions have advanced tobacco at 21 laws and policies. In 2015, Hawaii became the first state to enact a tobacco at 21 law. It was later joined by California and Washington, D.C. in 2016. 

In 2017, lawmakers in Guam, New Jersey, Maine, and Oregon raised the minimum age of tobacco sales to 21. Additionally, lawmakers in Louisiana passed a resolution seeking recommendations from state agencies about a tobacco at 21 policy. The following is an overview of what happened in those states:

  • On March 23, Bill No. 9-34 became law without the governor’s signature in Guam. The law prohibits the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to individuals under 21. The law also increased fines for businesses and retailers that sell tobacco products to those under 21. It will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
  • On June 2, Louisiana representatives passed H.R. 177. This resolution directs the Louisiana Department of Health to “study the desirability and feasibility of increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco products.” The department must provide findings and recommendations to the House Committee on Health and Welfare before the 2018 regular session.
  • On July 21, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed S. 359, becoming the third state to enact a tobacco at 21 law. The law increases the prior minimum age of sale from 19 to 21 and applies to both traditional tobacco products as well as e-cigarettes. It goes into effect on Nov. 1. 
  • On Aug. 2, Maine’s legislators overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of LD 1170. Maine’s law phases in the new age of sale restrictions over three years, allowing anyone who turns 18 on or before July 1, 2018, to purchase tobacco products. In addition, lawmakers expanded the definition of tobacco products. The law goes into effect on July 1, 2018. 
  • On Aug. 9, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed SB 754. In addition to prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to individuals under 21, Oregon’s law creates fines for businesses and individuals that violate the new age restrictions, includes e-cigarette systems in the definition of a tobacco product, and prohibits individuals under the age of 21 from possessing tobacco products at schools, colleges, universities, and youth correctional facilities. The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Tobacco at 21 2017 map
Click to download the Tobacco at 21 in 2017 PDF.

As a result of these efforts, more than 17 percent of the nation lives in a jurisdiction with a state-wide tobacco at 21 law. In addition, ASTHO is tracking 30 bills from 22 additional jurisdictions considering similar measures. ASTHO will continue to monitor how states and other jurisdictions are advancing and implementing tobacco at 21 and other efforts to promote comprehensive tobacco control programs.