Most Americans - including smokers - think cigarettes should be harder to get

Cigarette sales

Three-quarters of U.S. adults would favor raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21, according to a new report from CDC researchers.

(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

You have to be 21 to buy alcohol in the U.S., and most Americans agree that the same age requirement should apply for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products.

study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 50% of U.S. adults “strongly favor” raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21. An additional 25% of those surveyed said they “somewhat favor” this change.

Only 11% of the 4,219 people who completed the survey said they would “strongly oppose” raising the minimum age to 21, and 14% said they would “somewhat oppose” such a move.

Just last month, Hawaii became the first state in the union to set its legal smoking age at 21. (The new law, which also applies to electronic cigarettes, goes into effect on Jan. 1.) Four other states – Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah – have bumped up their minimum age to 19.


In California, the state Senate has approved a bill to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. That bill is being considered by the Assembly.

In addition, at least 80 U.S. cities require tobacco buyers to be at least 21, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Researchers from the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health wanted to gauge public opinion on the issue because raising the minimum smoking age is seen as a promising way to reduce youth smoking. Although no studies have yet assessed the effect of this policy change, the study authors noted that other moves to restrict tobacco sales to minors have had a beneficial effect.

The survey results found broad support for the idea of making tobacco as hard to buy as alcohol. For instance, 73% of men and 77% of women either strongly or somewhat favored efforts to raise the minimum age to 21. In addition, 73% of blacks, 75% of whites, 76% of Latinos and 78% of people from other racial groups said they would support such a move.


Geography didn’t make much difference – 74% of Americans in Northeastern and Midwestern states favored the idea, along with 75% of those in the South and 76% of those in the West. Likewise, support was strong regardless of educational background – 74% of those who didn’t finish high school endorsed the change, as did 75% of high school graduates, 74% of those who finished some college and 76% of those with a college degree.

One factor that did make a difference was smoking status. Among those who said they had never been smokers, 77% expressed support for raising the minimum tobacco-buying age to 21. Support among former smokers was slightly lower, at 75%. It was lowest for current smokers, but even 70% of them were either strongly or somewhat in favor of the change.

If more states boosted the minimum age for buying cigarettes, it “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,” the CDC researchers wrote.

The survey results were published online Tuesday by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

For more medical news, follow me on Twitter @LATkarenkaplan and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.

Get our weekly Health and Science newsletter