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Should There Be An Age Limit Of 21 On Smoking Related Products?

With more states and cities limiting the sale of tobacco related products to over-21s there has been increased discussion about whether or not the age restriction should be imposed on a national level. Alcohol products bear the same age restriction and are arguably less harmful than smoking, but should all tobacco products including vapes have such sale limitations put on them?


Research from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids found that 95% of adult smokers began before they turned 21. Whilst a lot try before they are 18 very few become regular smokers before the age of 21. This all means that 18-21 is the key age bracket for smokers developing a regular habit. Therefore, if the age limit was raised to 21 it could increase the age of experimentation and reduce the amount of young adults who transition to smoking on a regular basis.

The 2015 Monitoring the Future survey found that two thirds of 10th grade students and half of 8th grade found it easy to get their hands on cigarettes but as this has happened the number of retailers selling to minors has dropped. This suggests that the higher concentration of 18-19 year olds in high school is having an effect on the supply of tobacco. Nearly two thirds of 12-17 year olds had given money to others to buy cigarettes. By increasing the purchasing age to 2, these 18-19 year olds in high school would not be able to buy tobacco and sell it on to younger pupils.

Tobacco companies actively target 18-20 year olds with marketing and branding activities. In the case of U.S. V Phillip Morris USA (2006) the final opinion stated “…eighteen to twenty-four year olds will be critical to long term brand vitality as consumption increases with age.” This shows the need of tobacco companies to target under 21s in order to create a viable business for the future. Changing the law so only over 21s can buy cigarettes would limit big tobaccos ability to create lifelong customers and maintain profits.

Young people are more sensitive to nicotine than over 21s. This means they are more likely to become addicted to this substance than someone with a more developed brain. This therefore means by limiting sales to over 21s there is less chance of nicotine creating younger addicts.


The problem of smoking is already reducing. More Americans are making the switch to e-cigarettes and work by groups like the American Council on Science and Health (which has preached against cigarette use for 37 years) means that the number of smokers is decreasing. The CDC found that last year only 18% of the nation smoked down from 25% in 1997. This decline is due to arguably safer alternatives, higher taxes, enclosed spaces bans and better public education about the risks of smoking. Age has had little to do with this downward trend.

At the age of 12 a child can legally shoot a deer with a rifle. Before they reach 21 they can vote, drive a car and join the army before going off to the frontline. If they are mature enough for these activities are they not mature enough to make a decision about whether they want to smoke? It is arguably government interference that is unwarranted and unfair on those who are under the age of 21.

Making it 21 will create a black market amongst those who are underage. The numbers of youths looking for adults to buy them cigarettes will rapidly increase and it will probably mean a black market springs up creating profit for criminal gangs. As we’ve seen with the war on drugs and prohibition this simply makes it harder to police and control.

Vapes are arguably a lot safer than cigarettes, recent research from the UK showed they are at least 95% safer. With some smokers hooked by the age of 19 banning the sale of all tobacco related products to under 21s could make it harder for them to quit because not only will they be unable to access e-cigarettes they will be unable to buy other cessation products.

Do you think tobacco related products should be limited to adults over the age of 21? Share your thoughts with us in the comments and on our social media pages.

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