Raising the legal age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21 significantly decreases smoking among young adults, two new studies from the Yale University School of Public Health suggest. Public health experts say such laws are crucial, given that nine out of 10 smokers start by age 18, and 99 percent start by age 26.
The two recent studies found that states and localities that have tobacco-21 laws have lower rates of smoking among young adults than areas with a lower minimum age. “Not only do these laws seem to work, but they’re influencing the kids most at risk,” said Dr. Abigail Friedman, a coauthor on both studies and assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health.
The first study, published July 25 in the journal Addiction, compared rates of smoking among 18- to 22-year-olds in states and large cities with tobacco-21 laws with areas without such laws.
Researchers analyzed data from 1,869 young adults who had tried cigarettes at least once before, as those individuals are most at risk of becoming regular smokers. They found that 18- to 20-year-olds living in an area that had raised the age to legally buy tobacco products showed a 39 percent drop in regular smoking. The drop was even greater — about 50 percent — among those who had close friends who smoked when they were 16.
The second study, published July 26 in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, supported these results.
Researchers analyzed smoking rates among 18- to 20-year-olds in metropolitan / micropolitan areas of adjacent counties with an urban center of at least 10,000 residents. They found that between 2011 and 2016, the average smoking rate dropped more significantly among 18 to 20 year-olds with at least one local tobacco-21 law than those living in areas with no tobacco-21 policy.