More Local Governments Boost Smoking Age

By: - October 1, 2018 12:00 am

Starting today, if you want to buy cigarettes, e-cigarettes or other tobacco products in San Antonio, you’ve got to be 21 or older.

The city is one of a growing number of local governments that have passed ordinances or regulations that raise the smoking age to 21.

While Massachusetts this summer became the sixth state to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21, many local officials aren’t waiting for state legislatures to make the move.

At least 350 towns, cities and counties in 21 states have taken action, compared with about 200 in 14 states in 2016, according to Tobacco 21, a Dublin, Ohio-based advocacy group that supports raising the minimum age to 21.

In September alone, at least four cities or counties — Phillips County, Arkansas; Douglas County, Kansas; Minnetonka, Minnesota; and Essex County, New York — voted to hike the smoking age.

Anti-tobacco advocates say doing so will save lives, help keep tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, out of teens’ hands and cut long-term health care costs. Most smokers begin the habit before age 19.

Opponents say raising the smoking age hurts small businesses, such as convenience stores, reduces tax revenue and violates the personal freedom of young adults who are legally able to vote and join the military at 18.

Although teen smoking rates have fallen, nearly 1 in 5 high schoolers and 1 in 18 middle schoolers reported using a tobacco product in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and e-cigarettes are the most common form used by youth.

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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.