Minimum age to purchase tobacco products in US raised to 21

MD Anderson applauds significant step to limit youth exposure to nicotine, protect health

HOUSTON ― The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center applauds the bipartisan legislation approved today raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in the U.S. from 18 to 21. 

“Raising the national tobacco sale age to 21 is a significant step toward protecting the health of our youth and reducing the leading cause of preventable death in the United States: tobacco use,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “This historic legislation will have profound impact for all Americans. It will decrease tobacco use, prevent electronic cigarettes from reaching our children and reduce the ravages of cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease for future generations.”

The national measure follows a wave of efforts by states and local municipalities to raise the tobacco sale age to 21, including Texas, where Senate Bill 21 was implemented Sept. 1, 2019. MD Anderson experts served as clinical and scientific educational resources on this issue for state legislators. MD Anderson also served as an educational resource for a statewide Texas 21 coalition of public health organizations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use claims an estimated 480,000 lives each year in the U.S. Approximately 95% of adult smokers began smoking before they were 21. Increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 across the U.S. would reduce the smoking rate by 12% and result in 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) reports.

While smoking rates have substantially declined among middle and high school students over the last 40 years, e-cigarette use has sharply increased. In 2019, one of every three high school students and one of every 10 middle school students used e-cigarettes.

“For every three young people prevented from using tobacco because of this law, there will be one fewer cancer-related death in the future,” said Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and division head of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. “More than any other single thing we can do, lowering tobacco use can save lives, and the evidence suggests this policy will help us toward our mission of eliminating cancer.”

MD Anderson offers free community programs to educate children and teens about the dangers of smoking and cessation studies to help adults quit. Anyone seeking smoking cessation support can call the National Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.