Tobacco 21 | Tobacco Prevention and Control

Tobacco 21: Health Impacts of Raising the Minimum Tobacco Sale Age

Research shows that raising the legal sale age from 18 to 21, known as “Tobacco 21,” would greatly reduce youth tobacco use and prevent kids from starting to smoke, according to a 2015 Institute of Medicine report. Notably, the report estimated there would be a 25 percent reduction in smoking initiation among 15-to-17-year-olds if the age to purchase tobacco were raised to 21.

Nearly all tobacco users start before age 21. According to a 2017 MDH Health Advisory on nicotine, teens are especially susceptible to nicotine addiction and the harmful effects of nicotine on the developing brain. Raising the minimum tobacco sale age to 21 would limit youth access to tobacco until age 21, when the portion of the brain responsible for rational decision-making is more fully developed.

Research shows raising the tobacco sale age would keep Minnesota kids from starting.

In Minnesota, raising the legal sale age to 21 would have a one-time effect of preventing over 3,300 young Minnesotans from starting to smoke, according to a January 2017 Minnesota Medicine article. Following this model, Tobacco 21 would prevent an estimated 30,000 Minnesota youth from starting to smoke over a 15-year period.

Read more: Raising the Minimum Legal Sale Age for Tobacco to 21: The Estimated Effect for Minnesota (PDF)

Increasing the age gap between kids and those who can legally buy tobacco would help keep tobacco out of the high school environment. Results from the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey revealed that one in five students still use tobacco products of some kind, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 102,100 Minnesota youth are projected to die from smoking.

Communities are taking action to protect youth.

Long term, Tobacco 21 has the potential to significantly reduce smoking, and the Minnesota Comprehensive Tobacco Control Framework: 2016-2021 (PDF) identifies Tobacco 21 as a step for reducing youth tobacco use.

Nationally, more than 260 communities in 18 states have adopted a Tobacco 21 policy. The states of California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Oregon have also raised their minimum tobacco sale age to 21. Edina was the first Minnesota local jurisdiction to raise its tobacco sale age to 21, effective July 1, 2017. St. Louis Park will be the second with its ordinance going into effect on October 1, 2017.

Learn more about the nationwide Tobacco 21 movement at

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This information is also available as a PDF: Tobacco 21: Health Impacts of Raising the Minimum Tobacco Sale Age (PDF)

Updated Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 08:16AM