Increasing Minimum Legal Age to Purchase Tobacco Products Will Improve Health, New Study Says

Smoking among teenagers has been on the decline since 1976, however today 40 million Americans still smoke. Of the people who have ever smoked daily, 90 percent first tried a cigarette before 19 years of age. Nearly all others tried their first cigarette before the age of 26. Such statistics strongly suggest that if someone is not a regular tobacco user by age 25, it is highly unlikely he or she will become a smoker.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, has released a report that looks at the public health outcomes of increasing the minimum age of legal access (MLA) to tobacco products in the United States. Paula M. Lantz, PhD, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Milken Institute School of Public Health, and the other IOM Committee members who studied the issue and wrote the report, used two tobacco-use simulation models to estimate the likely reduction in tobacco-use initiation that would be achieved by raising the MLA for tobacco products to either 19 years old, 21 years old, or 25 years.

Currently most states have set the MLA at 18, there are four states (Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, and Utah) in which the minimum legal purchasing age of tobacco products is 19, and New York City and several other localities around the country have raised it to 21. If the MLA were raised now, the report says that in 2100, there would be approximately a 3 percent decrease in smoking prevalence for an MLA of 19; a 12 percent decrease for an MLA of 21; and a 16 percent decrease for an MLA of 25.

The report found that if the MLA were raised now to age 21 nationwide, the projected models show that there would be approximately 249,000 fewer premature deaths, 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost.

To learn more about this topic, members of the committee, including Professor Lantz, will discuss the report’s findings and conclusions at a public online webinar at 1 p.m. March 12, 2015. They will be taking questions from webinar participants.

Read more about the IOM committee and the report, “Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products.”