ANNAPOLIS, Md. — On Jan. 1, 2016, Hawaii became the first state to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to consumers under 21. Three years later, the number of states to bring Tobacco 21 legislation statewide stands has topped a dozen.
With the stroke of Gov. Larry Hogan's pen, Maryland became the 13th state to adopt the higher legal minimum age on May 13. The change goes into effect in Oct. 1.
The legislation was part of a series of healthcare-related bills Hogan signed into law on Monday. The Tobacco 21 measures comes as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declares teen vaping an epidemic. The legislation includes vaping in the definition of tobacco products.
"There is no more important job than protecting the health and safety of Marylanders," Hogan said. "The bipartisan measures we are enacting today … are important steps in achieving that goal. We are also proud to continue Maryland's record of leadership on health care by enacting legislation to further improve access and lower costs."
Efforts to raise the legal tobacco buying age have increased across the United States as more legislators joined the FDA's push to tighten youth prevention measures. The efforts are also being supported from the tobacco community, including Altria Group Inc. and Juul Labs.
"We commend Gov. Hogan for signing legislation to raise the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21 in Maryland, and would like to recognize the leadership of Del. Dereck Davis and Sen. Delores Kelley in this effort," said Kevin Burns, Juul Labs CEO.
Davis (D-25th District), chairman of the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee, and Kelley (D-10th District), chairwoman of the Maryland Senate Finance Committee, sponsored the T21 legislation.
"We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world's 1 billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in this country, if youth use continues unabated," Burns added. "Tobacco 21 laws fight one of the largest contributors to this problem — sharing by legal-age peers — and they have been shown to dramatically reduce youth-use rates. That is why we are committed to working with lawmakers to enact these effective policies and hope more jurisdictions follow in Maryland's example."
The change in Maryland comes one month after Delaware joined the growing list of states banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. On April 17, Gov. John Carney signed legislation increasing the legal minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The law takes effect July 16. The measure levies a fine up to $1,000 for violations, as Convenience Store News previously reported.
In addition, similar measures are making the rounds in several state legislatures. For example, in Texas state senators approved Senate Bill 21, which would raise the legal minimum age to buy tobacco products across Texas to 21. The legislation, which passed by a 20-11 vote, exempts active duty military personnel. The Texas House approved a companion bill in March; however, that version did not include a military exemption. Both chambers need to approve identical versions before it can be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott.
In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine introduced a proposal to increase the legal minimum age to buy tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21. The Tobacco 21 measure is part of the DeWine's proposed budget.
And in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is waiting to sign T21 legislation into law after the state Assembly and the state Senate passed the change.
"This year I proposed raising the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21 to help stamp out teen smoking and protect New Yorkers. The lifelong health effects of tobacco cannot be overstated and in New York we are committed to doing everything in our power to keep tobacco products out of the hands of young people," Cuomo said on April 1. "I look forward to signing this lifesaving legislation."
However, the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products remains 18. That could change.
On April 30, U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) introduced the Tobacco to 21 Act, bipartisan legislation that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21.
"The research is clear: raising the minimum smoking age to 21 would save lives," Schatz said. "Hawaii became the first state to raise the age limit, and since then, 11 other states have joined us. Our bipartisan bill would bring all 50 states together, so we can protect our young people from this addiction, and save lives."
Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Chris Stewart (R-Utah).