We are writing to express our strong support for raising the legal age for sale of tobacco products to 21 and to share our views on two bipartisan bills recently introduced in the Senate.
We commend Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Todd Young (R-IN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) for introducing the Tobacco to 21 Act (S. 1258) and Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) for introducing the Tobacco-Free Youth Act. We fully support the Tobacco to 21 Act and urge the removal of one provision of the
Tobacco-Free Youth Act.
Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 is an important part of a comprehensive strategy that is needed to prevent young people from starting down a path that often leads to addiction,
disease, and premature death. Adolescence and young adulthood are critical periods for preventing tobacco use. About 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned
21. If young people do not begin using tobacco by their early 20’s, they are unlikely to ever do so. Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 will help keep tobacco out of high schools, where
younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older classmates who can purchase them legally. Raising the legal age of sale to 21 will also help counter the tobacco industry’s efforts to
target young people between the ages of 18 and 21, a crucial time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking.
In 2015, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) found that raising the tobacco sale age to 21 would reduce the number of youth who start using tobacco products
and, over time, reduce the smoking rate by about 12 percent and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent. This translates into 223,000 fewer premature deaths, 50,000 fewer deaths from lung
cancer, and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost.
Both the Tobacco to 21 Act and the Tobacco-Free Youth Act would establish a national tobacco sale age of 21. Under both bills, FDA would apply the enforcement authority it has for the
current tobacco sale age of 18 to the new sale age of 21, including conducting retailer compliance checks and assessing penalties for violations. To ensure that the full benefits of this
policy are realized, both bills cover all tobacco products and do not exempt anyone from the sale prohibition. Both bills also appropriately focus on prohibiting commercial entities from
selling tobacco products to people under age 21, rather than punishing the purchase of these products by young people, who are often the targets of tobacco industry marketing and may be
addicted to nicotine.