Raising the Age of Eligibility for Tobacco Purchasing

Raising the Age of Eligibility for Tobacco Purchasing

Tobacco companies maintain market share by targeting young adults and teens.

Since the 1960’s Tobacco has come under heavy fire for its health consequences and marketing practices. Despite tremendous amounts of litigation and policy making tobacco continues to find a consumer base. One of the primary reasons that this product is able to continue being marketed successfully is due to the fact that tobacco advertising and marketing practices have been the focus of law makers. While these legal remedies have been effective, they lack the impact of age restriction laws.

Tobacco is a tremendous social issue in the US that is the cause of tremendous loss of life and money. Although the rates of tobacco users dropped considerably during the 1990s, the market for tobacco has leveled at 15% of the population (Maugh, 2010). Tobacco companies have managed to maintain this market share despite anti-tobacco regulation and advertising. Tobacco companies were able to maintain this market by continuing to target young adults and teens (American Lung Association, 2010). By targeting young adults, tobacco is able to reach the under 18 market and continue to gain lifelong users. In order to curb the social and financial cost of tobacco, an age restriction of 21 should be placed on all tobacco products.

In order to maximize profit, through lifelong users, tobacco companies must promote their products to the youngest market possible. Tobacco companies target young adults (18–25) knowing that younger more impressionable teens and kids will emulate the young adults (American Lung Association, 2010). The young adult market is accessed through intensive and deceptive advertising (American Lung Association, 2010).

One of the ways in which Tobacco reaches the young adult market is through strategic and deceptive advertising. Tobacco advertising links youth, masculinity, and beauty with tobacco (American Lung Association, 2010). The way this advertising works is by placing ads at events where teens and young adults frequent (American Lung Association, 2010). These events include sporting events and concerts where large numbers of teens and young adults can be found. The idea behind this form of advertising is to link tobacco use with events that young people idealize such as sports stars or rock stars. Despite advertising restrictions, tobacco companies use sponsorship of events as a means of targeting young adults and teens.

Because of the goal of tobacco companies to create lifelong users, this marketing approach, aimed at young people, significantly increases the long term public health risk. Essentially, the longer people use tobacco the greater the social and economic cost incurred by society. This problem is proven through statistics. Smoking kills 443,000 people every year which is one in every five deaths in the United States (CDC, 2012). This social cost is startling when one considers the fact that there is no justification for selling tobacco, other than profit, since it has no medical use and an obvious high potential for abuse (DEA, 2011). Along with this social cost there is the financial cost. The cost of cancer each year is $48 billion dollars. (Bunn, Stave, Downs, Alvir, & Diran, 2006).

Tobacco is financially costly to society impacting many sectors including the workforce and health care. The annual cost for lost productivity in the US due to smoking is $4.4 billion dollars per year (Bunn, Stave, Downs, Alvir, & Diran, 2006). According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2009), tobacco is one of the most significant drivers of healthcare cost. This is due to the fact that tobacco kills more people than HIV, drugs, drunk driving, murder, and accidents combined (CDC, 2012).

Opponents to age restrictions on tobacco claim that these laws are ineffective. This argument is weak since increasing the age of restriction has proven effective for reducing problems in similar situations such as alcohol. By increasing the age restriction from 18 to 21, young adults were no longer able to purchase alcohol or provide peer pressure to teens (CDC, 2013). After the minimum age restriction of 21 was implemented, drinking and driving incidents fell by 16% within the first year and continued to fall in the following decade (CDC, 2013). Further proof that age restrictions work include:

· Age 21 MLDA laws result in lower levels of alcohol consumption among young adults age 21 years and older as well as those less than age 21 years.

· States with more stringent alcohol control policies tend to have lower adult and college binge drinking rates.

· In addition to the age 21 MLDA, other effective strategies for preventing underage drinking include increasing alcohol excise taxes and limiting alcohol outlet density. Youth exposure to alcohol marketing should also be reduced (CDC, 2013).

In England, the legal age to purchase tobacco was increased in 2007 from 16 to 18 and the results showed a marked drop in underage smokers.

There was a greater fall in prevalence in 16–17-year-olds following an increase in age of sale than in older age groups. This provides some support to the view that raising the age of sale can, at least in some circumstances, reduce smoking prevalence in younger age groups (Fidler & West, 2010).

When age restriction is implemented it has a very quick impact such as it did in England in one year. These same results were mirrored in alcohol restrictions. Arguments that age restrictions are not effective are simply unfounded.

Opponents also argue that age restrictions are unfair or unjust. In reality, age restrictions are common and are not unfair when considered critically. For example, one cannot run for President if they are below the age of 35. This is referred to as the age of candidacy and all levels of government have age restrictions (US Legal, 2013). Being 18, the age of majority, is completely different than being eligible to smoke at age 21 (US Legal, 2013). There are many age restriction examples and these examples show that age restrictions are a working legal concept.

Tobacco companies also target adolescents because they are more susceptible to addiction than adults. Teenagers are more susceptible to the dangers of nicotine addiction due to the fact that adolescent brains are still developing. The adolescent is less likely to make rational decisions and are far more likely to act on impulse due to brain chemistry. According to Talukder (2013), the decision making centers of the brain are still in a developmental stage into the early twenties. As a result of this developmental factor, adolescents are incapable of making a rational decision concerning whether to use tobacco since they do not have the capacity to fully understand what the implications of choosing to use tobacco are in the long term (Talukder, 2013). Allowing tobacco companies to market to people under the age of 21 is unethical because it is taking advantage of a market that is incapable of making proper decisions. This would be the same as selling addictive candy to children.

By being able to sell tobacco to individuals between the 18 and 21 age bracket, tobacco companies are able to reach the underage market which they desire for long term profit. This fact, coupled with the tremendous social cost of tobacco, highlights the need for an age restriction placed on the product. Along with financial and social cost, tobacco takes advantage of a market which does not have the rational decision making skills to properly decide if tobacco use is a good choice. There are many restrictions placed on other products such as over the counter drugs and these products at least have beneficial uses. Tobacco is a product that serves no beneficial use and only causes harm. By restricting tobacco to the age of 21, society would greatly diminish the long term financial costs as well as save millions of lives.


American Lung Association. (2010, February). Children and Teens. Retrieved July 25, 2013

Bunn, W., Stave, G., Downs, K., Alvir, J., & Diran. (2006). Effect of smoking status on productivity loss. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 1099–108.

CDC. (2012). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Retrieved July 28, 2013, from

CDC. (2013, December 13). Fact Sheets — Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age. Retrieved from Center for Disease Control:

DEA. (2011). Drugs of Abuse 2011 Edition DEA Resource Guide. Washington , D.C., United States.

Engs, R. C. (1998, March 20). Why the drinking age should be lowered: An opinion based upon research. Retrieved from INDIANA UNIVERSITY, BLOOMINGTON :

Fidler, J. A., & West, R. (2010). Changes in smoking prevalence in 16–17-year-old versus older adults following a rise in legal age of sale: findings from an English population study. Addiction, 105, 1984–1988.

Maugh, T. H. (2010, Septemeber 8). U.S. smoking rate hasn’t changed CDC says. Los Angeles Times, p. 16.

Talukder, G. (2013, March 20). Decision-making is Still a Work in Progress for Teenagers. Retrieved from Brain Connection:

US Legal. (2013). Age of Candidacy Law & Legal Definition. Retrieved from US Legal:

Photo by Alexandra Wolowitz on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Mon, Feb 01, 2021. Raising the Age of Eligibility for Tobacco Purchasing Retrieved from

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