Tobacco use continues to be a significant public health concern and a leading cause of preventable death in the US. Though we have made some great strides, nearly 20% of high school students reported using tobacco products in 2016, including e-cigarettes, and the US Surgeon General estimated that nearly 6 million children will die prematurely in adulthood if current trends continue. Further, in 2015, nearly 2 million people smoked cigarettes for the first time and nearly 90% of cigarette smokers first try smoking by age 18.
Because of the addictive nature of nicotine, experimentation or initiation of tobacco use among youth and young adults is particularly troubling. This is a critical period for growth and development, one during which the brain may be especially susceptible and sensitive to the effects of nicotine. Increasing the minimum legal sale age (MLSA) for tobacco products to 21 would reduce our youth’s access to, and use of, tobacco products.
The Association Advocates
The American Heart Association advocates for policies at the federal, state and local levels that prohibit the sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21. Those laws should include effective enforcement mechanisms, including compliance checks, to ensure retailers comply with the law and not place excessive punishment or burden on youth.
On December 20, 2019, the President signed legislation to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and raise the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age. In response, Alabama State Representatives Barbara Drummond and Shane Stringer filed Tobacco 21 legislation, House Bill 119. AHA has yet to announce a position.