Members of Congress Want to Raise Smoking Age to 21

By: - November 9, 2017 12:00 am

Maine has joined four other states in barring the sale of cigarettes to people under 21. Massachusetts may be joining five other states in barring the sale of cigarettes to people under 21. The Associated Press


Several states have already raised the legal age for buying tobacco products to 21.

The Associated Press

Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate have filed a new bill that would prohibit the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21.

The measure was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Dick Durbin of Illinois. Seventeen other members of Congress, all Democrats, are co-sponsoring the legislation, which is aimed at reducing tobacco use among young people and helping to save lives.

Several states already have raised the legal age to buy cigarettes to 21. Hawaii and California were the first to pass such a law. In July, New Jersey joined them, and in August, Maine and Oregon did the same.

In most states, the legal age to buy tobacco products is 18; in a few it is 19.

Supporters say hiking the legal age to 21 will save lives as well as cut medical costs for states. They point to a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which predicted that raising the age to 21 would reduce smoking by 12 percent by the time today’s teenagers are adults. It also would result in about 223,000 fewer premature deaths.

But opponents say raising the legal age to 21 would hurt small businesses, reduce tax revenue, and violate the personal freedom of young adults who are legally able to vote and join the military.

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.