The tobacco industry heavily targets young adults ages 18-21 in order to recruit new tobacco users and guarantee profits. About 95 percent of current adult smokers started before they were 18. [i]

A 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) 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]

Any step to prevent youth from becoming addicted to tobacco products is a step in the right direction, especially in the face of the youth nicotine epidemic.

Federal, State and Local Efforts

As of December 2019, 19 states – Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington – had raised the tobacco age to 21, along with Washington, DC and more than 540 localities.

On Dec. 20, 2019, President Trump signed Tobacco 21 into federal law. Raising the national tobacco sales age to 21 is a victory for youth and health, but state and local action is still needed to maximize health benefits. ANSR continues to work with state and local partners to implement this policy and pursue a comprehensive approach to tobacco prevention and cessation here in Minnesota.

As of May 2020, 75 Minnesota cities and counties raised the tobacco sales age to 21. This set the table for the Minnesota State Legislature to pass a Tobacco 21 law in May that ensured all youth in the state are protected.


ANSR provided signage for vendors across the state. If you need more signage, please us at

Resources for Law Enforcement and Schools



Alternatives to Penalties for Youth


Penalties on underage possession, use, and purchase of tobacco have not been proven to reduce tobacco use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends education, counseling, and support to reduce youth use. Research shows that punitive measures against young people can results in unintentional consequences and increase the likelihood of youth initiation. The community programs for youth listed below are available as alternatives to punitive measures.


Program NameFormatTime FrameAudienceCostFacilitatorContact
My Life, My QuitQuit coaching via text, chat or callOngoingYouth aged 13-18 who want to quitFreeSelf-ledText ‘Start’ to 36702 or
In Depth – American Lung AssociationWebinars, handouts, and activitiesFour 50-minute lessonsMiddle and high schoolFreeTrained
Don’t Blow It – Essentia ToolkitOnline video, pre- and post-tests, group discussion option20-30 min, 35 with group discussionHigh school, education and preventionFreeEducators

The Real Cost of Vaping –
FDA/ Scholastic Toolkit

Online readings, videos, interactive activity, group setting activities, family resource page

45 min + group activities 
Grades 6-8 and 9-12, education and
Catch My Breath
In person – PowerPoint, discussions, and activities
Four 40-min lessonsGrades 5-6, 7-8, high school, education and preventionFree
6th grade virtual option $25
Educators – need trained facilitator (free for “basic” training)
Vape, EducateOnline modules and mini-quizzes in-between final exam at the end
Includes vaping and marijuana education
5 hours totalMiddle and high school studentsStarting at $20 for each versionDifferent versions for parents, educators, and community orgs
Taking Down Tobacco – Campaign for Tobacco Free KidsOnline webinars and videosApprox. 90 minMiddle and high school

i. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National 2 Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. 2012.

ii. National Academy of Medicine. Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products. National Academy Press. 2015.

iii. Boyle, R., Kingsbury, J. & Parks, M. Raising the Minimum Legal Sales Age for Tobacco to 21. Minnesota Medicine. 2017.

iv. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. 2014.

v. Goriounova, N., Mansvelder, H. Nicotine exposure during adolescence alters the rules for prefrontal cortical synaptic plasticity during adulthood. Frontiers in synaptic neuroscience. 2012.

vi. Nelson, D. et al. Long-term trends in adolescent and young adult smoking in the United States: metapatterns and implications. Am J Public Health. 2008.