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WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the past few years, states and cities across the country have been moving toward raising the legal age to buy tobacco products. Now, a new study commissioned by the federal government finds merit in the age increase.
According to a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), increasing the minimum age of legal access (MLA) for tobacco products would likely prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults. The age group most impacted would be those aged 15 to 17.
In the report, Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products, a committee of experts reviewed existing literature on tobacco use initiation, developmental biology and psychology, and tobacco policy and predicted the likely public health outcomes of raising the MLA for tobacco products to 19 years old, 21 years old and 25 years old. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested the study in 2013.
As a result of the review, the committee also concluded that the impact of raising the MLA to 21 would likely be substantially higher than raising it to 19. However, the added effect of raising the MLA from 21 to 25 would likely be considerably less.
The report only makes conclusions and does not make any recommendations, according to the IOM.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 prohibited the FDA from establishing a nationwide MLA for tobacco products above 18 years old. However, the act directed the FDA to convene a panel of experts to conduct a study on the public health implications of raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products. At the FDA's request, the IOM convened a committee in 2013.
While most states have kept the MLA to buy tobacco products on par with the federal regulation, four states have set it at 19 years old and several localities around the country have increased it even higher to 21.
"The initiation age of tobacco use is critical," the IOM report stated. "Among adults who become daily smokers, approximately 90 percent report first use of cigarettes before reaching 19 years of age, and almost 100 percent report first use before age 26. As mentioned above, FDA cannot raise the MLA nationwide. However, states and localities can set a higher minimum age for their communities."
Tobacco companies had varying reactions to the report, according to the Wall Street Journal. Richmond, Va.-based The Altria Group Inc. said local governments should let the FDA and Congress weigh in before changing age limits. Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Inc. said it supports current minimum age laws, while Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc. said it would leave the minimum age up to city, state and federal authorities.
In a statement to the news outlet, Reynolds American said: "We are opposed to youth use of tobacco and agree that the minimum age of purchase is an important issue for discussion."
To view the compete IOM report, click here.