Maine Becomes Fourth State to Raise Tobacco Age to 21

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
August 02, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Maine today became the fourth state to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 as the Legislature voted to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the measure. In taking this bold step, Maine will prevent young people from starting to use tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free. We applaud Maine lawmakers for standing up to the tobacco industry and acting to protect the children and health of their state. The law covers all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, and prohibits tobacco sales to anyone under 21 as lawmakers rejected proposals to exempt members of the military.

Maine provides another significant boost for the growing, nationwide movement to increase the tobacco age to 21. Tobacco 21 laws have also been enacted by California, Hawaii, New Jersey and at least 255 cities and counties, including New York City, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, St. Louis and both Kansas Cities. The Oregon Legislature approved a Tobacco 21 bill last month, and Gov. Kate Brown has indicated she will sign it into law. Massachusetts lawmakers should quickly approve similar legislation pending there.

Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. We know that about 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. Increasing the tobacco age will help counter the industry’s efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. In Maine alone, tobacco companies spend over $42 million a year to market their deadly and addictive products. This legislation will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students.

A 2015 report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) concluded that increasing the tobacco age to 21 will significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking, with immediate and long-term benefits for the nation’s health.

Tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States, killing over 480,000 Americans and costing the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. In Maine, tobacco kills 2,400 people and costs over $800 million in health care expenses each year. Without additional action to reduce tobacco use, 27,000 kids alive today in Maine will die prematurely from smoking. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 is a critical step in reducing and eventually eliminating tobacco’s terrible toll.