Why Some States Are Raising the Age to Buy Tobacco

2 minute read

Oregon became the fifth state to raise the age for buying tobacco products to 21.

Under a bill signed by Gov. Kate Brown this week, store clerks who sell traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigars as well as those who sell vapes to people under 21 will face fines ranging from $50 up to $1,000 for multiple offenses.

The state joins neighboring California as well as Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine on the list of those that have recently raised their smoking age to 21, part of a nationwide movement to reduce tobacco use among younger Americans.

Rob Crane, President of Tobacco21, which advocates for raising the smoking age to 21, said that stopping people from trying tobacco early may help prevent addiction down the road. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 20.

“We are programmed as adolescents to try new things, which is a perfect recipe for dangerous things,” he said.

Advocates argue that raising the age to buy tobacco will help reduce smoking. One study published in the journal Tobacco Control found that after the Boston suburb of Needham raised its sales age to 21, teen smoking was cut in half.

A 2015 Institute of Medicine report found that increasing the minimum legal age for smoking would help stop younger teens from starting because they would not be as likely to be in the same social networks as adults over the age of 21, so it would be harder for them to obtain tobacco. Researchers estimated that if the tobacco sales age was raised to 21 nationwide, it would lead to a 12% decrease in adult smoking by the time today’s teens have grown up.

But not everyone is sold on the idea.

Alex Clark, the Executive Director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, which advocates for users of smoke-free tobacco products including e-cigarettes, argued that raising the smoking age would lead to more “black market activity” as people under the age of 21 seek out alternative sources of tobacco.

Still, at least one vaping company backed the age restrictions.

JUUL Labs, which sells vaporizers, has raised the minimum age to buy its products online to 21. In a statement to TIME, CEO Tyler Goldman emphasized that his company sells products “designed for existing adult smokers to switch.”

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com