Tobacco 21

A national consensus is growing to raise the minimum tobacco sale age to 21 – a move that will prevent youth tobacco use and save lives.


The National Academy of Medicine reports that there would be a 25 percent reduction in smoking initiation among 15-to-17-year-olds if the age to purchase tobacco was raised to 21.1 Increasing the tobacco age will prevent 30,000 Minnesota kids from becoming smokers over the next 15 years.2

Preventing youth from starting to smoke is essential to reducing smoking prevalence, considering that almost 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started before age 21.3

The tobacco industry aggressively markets to youth and young adults to recruit replacement smokers and guarantee profits. The U.S. Surgeon General has identified the tobacco industry as the root cause of the smoking epidemic through its promotion of tobacco products to youth.4

  • The tobacco industry heavily targets 18-to-21-year olds. The tobacco industry continues to use tactics like candy flavoring, magazine advertisements and event sponsorships to attract young people to tobacco.5,6
  • An internal tobacco industry memo stated “Raising the legal minimum age for cigarette purchase to 21 could gut our key young adult market (17-20) where we sell about 25 billion cigarettes and enjoy a 70 percent market share.”7

Several states and local governments are taking action to protect youth:

  • Hawaii and California were the first states to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21.
  • More than 200 municipalities in the United States have raised the age to purchase tobacco to 21.
  • Needham, Massachusetts increased the tobacco age to 21 in 2005, and found that smoking among high school students fell by nearly half.8

Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation supports this move – and isn’t alone. 75 percent of adult Americans favor increasing the minimum purchase age for tobacco to 21.5

For more information, view our fact sheet.


1 Institute of Medicine. Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products. National Academy Press. 2015.

2 Boyle, Raymond. Tobacco 21: A life-saving opportunity we can't afford to miss. MinnPost. February 20, 2017.

3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality; September 2014

4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. 2014.

5 King BA, Jama AO, Marynak KL, Promoff GR. Attitudes Toward Raising the Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Among US Adults. Am J Prev Med. 2015; 49(4): 583-588. 

6 Gemma JL (RJR Tobacco). Memorandum from JL Gemma, Marketing Development Department to Marketing Development Department Committee at RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. Aug 16. 1985;

7 Philip Morris, “Discussion Draft Sociopolitical Strategy,” January 21, 1986, Bates Number 2043440040/0049,

8 Kessel Schneider S, Buka SL, Dash K, Winickoff JP, O'Donnell L. Community reductions in youth smoking after raising the minimum tobacco sales age to 21. Tob Control. 2015.

  • Outline of Minnesota

    Our Mission

    Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation is a coalition of Minnesota organizations that share a common goal of saving Minnesota youth from a lifetime of addiction to tobacco. Each year in Minnesota tobacco use is responsible for more than 6,300 deaths and more than $3 billion in preventable health care costs and 95 percent of adult smokers started before the age of 21. The coalition supports policies that reduce youth smoking, including keeping tobacco prices high, raising the tobacco sale age to 21, limiting access to candy-, fruit- and menthol-flavored tobacco and funding future tobacco prevention programs.

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