The tobacco industry heavily targets young adults ages 18-21 in order to recruit new tobacco users and guarantee profits. Approximately 95 percent of current adult smokers started before they were 18.[i]
A 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that increasing the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 would decrease smoking initiation among 15-17 year olds by 25 percent.[ii] A Minnesota-specific study looked at the impact of raising the tobacco age and found that 25 percent fewer 15-year-olds would start smoking by the time they turn 18. This translates into 30,000 young people not becoming smokers over the next 15 years.[iii] If youth don’t smoke by the time they are 21, they likely never will.
Why This Matters
Nicotine is addictive and particularly harmful to the developing adolescent brain. Evidence suggests that nicotine interferes with brain maturation and can have a long term effect on cognitive development and mental health.[iv] The long-term effects of nicotine on the adolescent brain is a significant public health concern.[v],[vi]
The City of Needham, Mass., raised the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 in 2005. Within five years, tobacco use among high school students decreased by nearly half.[vii]
A national consensus is growing to protect young people from a lifetime of addiction and health problems caused by tobacco. A 2014 national survey shows that 75 percent of adults favor increasing the minimum purchase age for tobacco to 21.
A growing list of more than 260 cities in the United States along with the states of Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Maine and Oregon have raised the age to purchase tobacco to 21. In Minnesota, Edina and St. Louis Park have both passed Tobacco 21 ordinances.