Tobacco 21

PACT Recommendation: Increase the minimum legal age of sale 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 nine 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 95 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 tobacco sales age. [ii] Over 475 municipalities to date that have made local efforts to raise the legal sales age, local efforts are building momentum towards the ultimate goal of comprehensive state-level legislation that will prohibit tobacco sales to all under 21. At present, 18 states have a minimum legal age of 21.

Raising the age of sale for tobacco products to 21 would be particularly impactful on youth ages 15-17, a majority of whom obtain tobacco through social contacts such as family and friends. Increasing the age to 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 a minimum legal age of sale of 21 will reduce initiation of tobacco use in this age group by 25 percent.[ii]


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

[ii] 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