Minimum Ages of Legal Access for Tobacco in the United States From 1863 to 2015

Am J Public Health. 2016 Jul;106(7):1200-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303172. Epub 2016 May 19.


In the United States, state laws establish a minimum age of legal access (MLA) for most tobacco products at 18 years. We reviewed the history of these laws with internal tobacco industry documents and newspaper archives from 1860 to 2014. The laws appeared in the 1880s; by 1920, half of states had set MLAs of at least 21 years. After 1920, tobacco industry lobbying eroded them to between 16 and 18 years. By the 1980s, the tobacco industry viewed restoration of higher MLAs as a critical business threat. The industry's political advocacy reflects its assessment that recruiting youth smokers is critical to its survival. The increasing evidence on tobacco addiction suggests that restoring MLAs to 21 years would reduce smoking initiation and prevalence, particularly among those younger than 18 years.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Smoking / history*
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Tobacco Industry / history*
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / history
  • United States