New York Passes Bill to Raise Tobacco Sale Age to 21

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 01, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New York state lawmakers have given final approval to legislation prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the measure in his budget, and his signature will add New York to the growing list of states and localities that have raised the tobacco age to 21.

Thanks to this bold step, New York will prevent young people from starting to use tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free. This bill will helpreverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic and further drive down tobacco use, still the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. We thank Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Senator Diane Savino for their leadership in shepherding this bill through the Legislature, as well as Gov. Cuomo for proposing this and other measures to reduce tobacco use.

New York’s action provides another major boost for the growing, nationwide movement to increase the tobacco age to 21. Eight states – California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, Massachusetts, Utah and Virginia – and at least 440 cities and counties have enacted Tobacco 21 laws. Measures in Illinois and Washington await their governors’ signatures, and other states are moving similar bills as well.

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. We also know that tobacco companies spend $9.4 billion a year – more than $1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products, much of it aimed at young people.

A tobacco age of 21 will also help counter the industry’s relentless efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. A 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits, with immediate and long-term benefits for the nation’s health.

Tobacco use kills over 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. In New York, tobacco kills 28,200 people and costs over $10.3 billion in health care expenses each year. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 is a critical step in reducing and eventually eliminating tobacco’s terrible toll.