AHA supports raising age to purchase tobacco to 21

Three quarters of adults, including nearly 70 percent of current smokers, are in favor of raising the minimum tobacco age of sale to 21, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey on July 6.

The CDC researchers, who published their results online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, indicated that 90 percent of smokers tried their first cigarette before they turned 18.

As of now, the minimum age of sale is 18 or 19 in all 50 states, although Hawaii passed a law last month that will increase the age to 21 starting on Jan. 1, 2016. The CDC indicated people who smoke at an early age have a greater risk of becoming addicted and having trouble quitting.

In a statement, American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown indicated tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S.

“We encourage state officials to pay attention to this timely new survey which indicates growing support for changing the current age for tobacco purchases,” Brown said. “The association will certainly point to these results as we work to pass laws in 49 states raising the legal limit to 21.”

In this nationally representative sample, the researchers conducted an online survey of 4,219 adults in June and July 2014. They found that 75 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat favored raising the age to 21. In addition, 74.6 percent of former smokers, 69.9 percent of current smokers, 73.2 percent of men and 76.7 percent of women favored changing the age requirement.

“Raising the minimum age of sale to 21 years could be beneficial in multiple ways,” the CDC researchers wrote. “Because peers are a major source of tobacco among underage youth and older youth are more likely to succeed in purchasing tobacco, raising the age of sale to 21 years could reduce the likelihood that youth can access tobacco and provide it to peers. Such laws could also simplify enforcement because many state drivers’ licenses have formatting to denote individuals aged <21 years. These efforts could delay the age of first tobacco experimentation, reducing the likelihood of youth transition to regular use and increasing the likelihood of cessation if they become regular users.”