Tobacco 21 Bills Gain Local, State and Federal Traction


History tells us that people have smoked tobacco for thousands of years. More than three generations ago, the public began to speculate about the health of smoking, and some fifty years ago, the Surgeon General ruled that health warnings were required on each pack of smokes. The next few decades saw the significant rise of tobacco taxes, the introduction of the minimum purchase age and the passage and implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. 

In this decade, tweaks to existing laws have dominated the spectrum of tobacco legislation, and none as much as the minimum tobacco purchase age. The 1980s and 1990s saw the states establish a tobacco purchase age of 18, with a handful at 19. And that is the age where many states left it for several decades. 

How States Address Tobacco

In 2015, Hawaii was the first state to raise their tobacco purchase age to 21, effective in 2016. Since then, another 17 states and more than 500 localities followed suit. Massachusetts tops the list with the most local laws at 236. In fact, when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation in 2018 to raise the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21, more than 170 Massachusetts localities had already raised it. Of these 18 states, six (AR, CA, MD, TX, VA, UT) have military exemptions, and Utah even has a military exemption for spouses and dependents. 

Tobacco At The Federal Level

On the federal front, several bills were introduced in 2019 to restrict tobacco purchases to age 21. Most notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced S. 1541 in May. It is a straightforward bill with no exemptions, for example, for military personnel. Among the other pending bills are: “Tobacco to 21 Act” (HR 2411,S.1258); “Tobacco-Free Youth Act” (S. 1541); “Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019” (HR 2339); and the “SCOTT Act of 2019 (HR 2084).

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill, the “Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act” (H.R. 3942), by a voice vote. Co-sponsored by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) and Congressman Kelly Armstrong (ND-AL), the bill closes loopholes that exempt online e-cigarette retailers from federal age verification requirements.

FMI serves on the board of directors of the We Card Coalition, since its inception in the 1990s. We Card provides an array of tools to assist retailers in navigating the various laws on age verification. Visit their website at for more information. In the meantime, FMI will continue to monitor and report on age verification bills in the local, state and federal realm. 

For more on Tobacco Sales, click here.

Article by Elizabeth Tansing, Senior Director, State Affairs, FMI

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