A study presented to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on March 12 supports the theory that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 from 18 will substantially reduce the number of 15- to 17-year-olds who start smoking and decrease the number of early deaths and low birth weights due to smoking.
Conducted by an Institute of Medicine committee, the study—titled “Public health implications of raising the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products”—reviewed existing information about tobacco use initiation as well as developmental biology and psychology.
Results of the study indicated that, if the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products were increased to 19, smoking prevalence would decrease by an estimated 3 percent by the time today’s teenage users become adults. Additionally, the study found that a 12 percent decrease would occur if the minimum age of legal access were raised to 21, and a decrease of 16 percent would take place should the minimum age be raised to 25.
The committee that conducted the study was chaired by Richard Bonnie, a law professor at the University of Virginia, and researchers used the SimSmoke and CisNet cigarette smoking models to gather information. Researchers also concluded that increasing the minimum age of legal access to 21 would result in 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer, 249,000 fewer premature deaths, 438,000 fewer babies born with a low birth weight, 286,000 fewer pre-term births, and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost among those born between 2000 and 2019.