Youth Access Laws

PACT Recommendation: Increase the minimum legal age of sale (MLA) to 21 to significantly reduce youth tobacco use and to prevent related disease and premature death among younger generations.

Protecting youth from the adverse health impacts of tobacco use is a critical component of tobacco control. Youth are more vulnerable to nicotine addiction than are older adults, yet nearly 13 percent of high school students in Pennsylvania are current smokers.[i]

Currently, Act 112 of 2002 prohibits the sale of tobacco to minors under 18 in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, local youth access laws are preempt, meaning that they cannot be stricter than or differ from the state law.

Preventing youth initiation of tobacco use is an important strategy for reducing the overall burden of tobacco in part because 81 percent of current smokers first began smoking before they turned 21.[ii]

State-level efforts to raise the minimum legal age of sale are critical. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has federal regulatory authority of tobacco products per the 2009 Family and Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, is prohibited from raising the nationwide MLA. [iv] And while municipalities’ efforts to raise local MLAs—major cities including New York, Boston, and Chicago are at the forefront of over 180 municipalities to date—represent important achievements, comprehensive state-level legislation is critical to ensuring that no youth under 21 is exposed to tobacco. At present, Hawaii and California are the only states with MLAs of 21.

An MLA of 21 would be particularly impactful on youth ages 15-17, a majority of whom obtain tobacco through social contacts such as family and friends. An MLA of 21 would make it significantly less likely that high school youth would be able to get tobacco products through social connections at school; the National Academy of Medicine estimates that an MLA of 21 will reduce initiation of tobacco use in this age group by 25 percent.[v]

#UptheAgePA

According to a 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), a nationwide minimum legal age of sale (MLA) of 21 would:

  • Immediately improve the health of adolescents and young adults;
  • Decrease tobacco use among adults by 12% by the time today’s teenagers become adults;
  • Prevent 223,000 premature deaths due to tobacco use;
  • Result in 50,000 fewer lung cancer deaths; and
  • Save 4.2 million years of life that would otherwise be lost to tobacco-related premature death among those born between 2000 and 2019.[v]
Foot Notes

[i] Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The Toll of Tobacco in Pennsylvania. 2016. Available http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/facts_issues/toll_us/pennsylvania

[ii] American Lung Association. Tobacco Cessation & Prevention: Tobacco 21 Laws. Available http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/tobacco/cessation-and-prevention/tobacco-21-laws.html

[iii] Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products. Report Brief, March 2015. Available http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2015/TobaccoMinAge/tobacco_minimum_age_report_brief.pdf

[iv] Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products. Report Brief, March 2015. Available http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2015/TobaccoMinAge/tobacco_minimum_age_report_brief.pdf

[v] Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products. Report Brief, March 2015. Available http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2015/TobaccoMinAge/tobacco_minimum_age_report_brief.pdf