Tobacco 21 Policies in the U.S.: The Importance of Local Control With Federal Policy

Am J Prev Med. 2021 May;60(5):639-647. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2020.12.009. Epub 2021 Feb 16.


Introduction: In December 2019, the U.S. raised the minimum legal sales age of tobacco to 21 years, a law commonly known as Tobacco 21. This study examines local Tobacco 21 policies for the inclusion of model policy components: comprehensive tobacco definition, age verification and tobacco access, enforcement measures, tobacco retail license, and violation penalties.

Methods: A document analysis of Tobacco 21 local policies passed in the U.S. before July 1, 2019 (N=477) was conducted in May 2020 using a Tobacco 21 policy assessment tool. Policies were coded by 2 independent coders for the inclusion of components.

Results: Many localities included model component: comprehensive tobacco definition (65%), appearance age (70.9%), local tobacco retail license (72%), a graduated monetary penalty structure (93%), and tobacco retail license suspensions or revocations (74%) for repeated violations. However, only 17.4% of policies included an appearance age in compliance with federal law (30 years). Furthermore, few policies included enforcement components, such as a mandatory number of inspections (5.9%) or compliance checks (6.7%) per year, or a minimum age for the underage purchasers used during compliance checks (8.4%).

Conclusions: Local policies can play an important role in tobacco control by providing an added layer to ensure adequate enforcement of age-restriction policies and allow an avenue to introduce strict measures that may diffuse into higher branches of government for policy adoption. Although many local Tobacco 21 policies fill regulatory gaps within the state and federal laws, often there is a lack of model components to ensure that policies are implemented as intended.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Commerce
  • Humans
  • Public Policy
  • Tobacco Products*
  • Tobacco Use
  • Tobacco*