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 Name Format Time Frame Audience Cost Facilitator Contact
My Life, My Quit Quit coaching via text, chat or call Ongoing Youth aged 13-18 who want to quit Free Self-led Text ‘Start’ to 36702 or
In Depth – American Lung Association Webinars, handouts, and activities Four 50-minute lessons Middle and high school Free Trained adult
Don’t Blow It – Essentia Toolkit Online video, pre- and post-tests, group discussion option 20-30 min, 35 with group discussion High school, education and prevention Free Educators
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 prevention Free Educators
Escape the Vape Vape prevention video competition for youth Competition opens in February, & winners announced in April Grades Middle and HS, education and prevention Free Could be done in groups or self-led
Vape, Educate Online modules and mini-quizzes in-between final exam at the end Includes vaping and marijuana education 5 hours total Middle and high school students Starting at $20 for each version Different versions for parents, educators, and community orgs
Stanford Curriculum – My Healthy Future Curriculum, Self-paced Approx. 40-60 min. Middle and high school students Free Self-led
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.