Study: Raising Legal Age To Buy Cigarettes To 21 Would Result In Fewer Smokers

By this point everyone can agree that smoking is harmful to your health, and yet there are still new smokers starting up the habit year after year. A new study from the Institute of Medicine says that swell in numbers could be curbed by raising the legal age to buy cigarettes to 21.

Though the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have the power to raise the minimum age nationwide above 18, 2009’s Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act directed FDA to convene a panel of experts to conduct a study on the public health implications of raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products.

At FDA’s request, the Institute of Medicine convened a committee with that purpose in 2013, the group says in its new study [PDF] titled “Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products.”

The IOM found that the age smokers start using tobacco is critical, saying that among adults who become daily smokers, about 90% of them report using cigarettes for the first time before turning 19. Almost all say they used cigarettes before 26.

The committee studied scientific literature on smoking to see how changing the age of minimum legal access — or MLA — to 19, 21 or 25 would impact smoking rates.

It found that at 19, smoking prevalence would drop by 3% by the year 2100; at 21 there would be a 12% decrease; and at 25 there would be a 16% person decrease.

The purpose of the report was not to make a recommendation, but the committee concluded overall that increasing the MLA for tobacco products “will likely prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults,” noting that the age group most impacted will be those between 15 and 17.

Though the FDA can’t raise the MLA nationwide, states and cities can set a higher minimum age for their communities, the IO points out. Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, and Utah have set the minimum age to 19, and New York City and several other localities have raised it to 21.