CEI Report Disputes Claims Tobacco 21 Laws Reduce Teen Smoking


A new Competitive Enterprise Institute report questions whether laws that hike the purchase age for tobacco and e-cigarette products to 21 actually reduce smoking rates among teens and young adults. 

“The notion that raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21 helps reduce adolescent smoking may seem plausible, but there is scant evidence that tobacco 21 laws actually work,” said Michelle Minton, CEI senior fellow and author of the report.

The report takes a hard look at the so-called Needham “Miracle.” In 2005, that small suburb of Boston became the first American town to set the tobacco purchasing age at 21. The law’s proponents claim adolescent smoking rates in Needham then declined dramatically, but a careful look at all the data from 2006 to 2012 indicates declines in adolescent smoking during that time period were no better than in nearby towns that kept the tobacco age limit at 18. 

The report concludes there is no evidence so far that tobacco 21 restrictions help reduce adolescent smoking rates and that lawmakers should not impose a sweeping government restriction that will fail to achieve its goals. At the very least, Congress should require a rigorous study of the policy before implementing it across the nation.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has announced plans to introduce legislation to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco nationwide, preempting states and localities that have lower age restrictions in place. And in the House, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced legislation that would (among other things) raise the age limit to 21.