The Legal Smoking Age In The US Is Going Up To 21

by Leah Groth

A new law passed in congress this week is raising the legal age to purchase and use smoking-related products from 18 to 21

For decades, the smoking age in the United States has been a hot topic. While the legal drinking age has been 21 since 1984, teens 18 and up have been given the go-ahead by the government to light up — despite the fact that smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, according to the CDC — linked to a whopping 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancer related deaths. Well, come 2020 things are going to change. According to a new law passed in congress on Thursday, the legal age to smoke in the United States will increase from 18 to 21 — banning the use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and all other tobacco products.

In November, President Donald Trump endorsed the major change. He is due to sign the bill in the next few days. Nearly half of US states have already increased the legal smoking age — Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, in addition to the District of Columbia — but this is still a major landmark victory for all — especially anti-smoking advocates who have been attempting to up the age for many years. It’s also something that both democrats and republicans are behind.

Buzzfeed points out that despite the fact cigarette smoking has declined among high school seniors — with only around 3.6 percent smoking daily — an increasing number of teens are using e-cigarettes. In fact, their use has almost doubled from last year, with a startling 20.9 percent claiming to have used them in the last month. Then, there are all those scary lung injuries that have been linked to vaping, some resulting in death.

The bill has the support of some tobacco companies as well, including Altria (who owns Marlboro cigarettes and is part-owner of Juul) and Reynolds American Inc., another Big Tobacco company. However, their support may be more political than anything else, explains Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an anti-tobacco advocacy group.

“While raising the age to 21 is a positive step, in this case, the tobacco industry supports it to avoid other policies — like removing flavors from e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes that would have a much greater effect,” Myers explained in a statement earlier this month. Additionally, he pointed out that the number of teens vaping has increased steadily, even though the legal age has been 18. “If age restrictions were a solution, we wouldn’t be having this problem,” he pointed out.

American Lung Association President Harold Wimmer, who is also behind the age increase, noted that “ultimately, more must be done by both Congress and the Trump Administration if our nation is to halt the youth e-cigarette epidemic.”

As far as timing, the new bill will reportedly go into effect nine months after it is signed — so likely toward the end of 2020.