Most Americans Support Raising Minimum Age to Buy Tobacco
Gallup | Justin McCarthy | News | August 1, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A strong majority of Americans (73%) say the minimum age to purchase tobacco products should be raised to 21 years old. These findings come as Ohio became the 18th state, along with the District of Columbia, to raise the minimum age to 21 and as federal legislation with the same goal is currently pending in the U.S. Senate.
These data are from a July 1-12 Gallup poll, in which the percentage of Americans who report they smoke cigarettes has reached 15%, the all-time low in Gallup’s 75-year trend.
Roughly half of the state laws to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco have already gone into effect, while the other half will take effect within the next two years. In addition to the regionally diverse patchwork of states that have raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco, hundreds of municipal governments across the U.S. have done the same.
Support for raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases is strongest among adults aged 65 and older — though majorities of other age groups support the policy change as well. Support is a bit lower among young adults aged 18 to 29 — some of whom the policy would affect — but even among this group, two in three support it.
Women (76%) are a bit more supportive than men (69%) of raising the age. Seventy-four percent of nonsmokers support this change in age restrictions, while a smaller majority of 64% of current smokers agree.
Banning Smoking Less Popular Than Curtailing Sales
The same poll updated Gallup trends on other, less popular, smoking policy changes.
Roughly six in 10 Americans (62%) support banning smoking in all public places, by three percentage points the highest since Gallup first asked about this in 2011.
Much less popular is a proposal to ban smoking entirely in the U.S. Strong majorities of Americans have opposed this idea in all polls since Gallup first polled on it in 1990. Though still unpopular, an outright national smoking ban has garnered more support on average since 2010 than before, with a high of 25% favoring it in 2018.
Nearly Two in Three Want Stricter Regulations on E-Cigarettes
Many Americans have begun using e-cigarettes, also known as “vaping.” Eight percent of U.S. adults say they have vaped in the past week. Vaping allows users to inhale nicotine without ingesting some of the more harmful substances found in cigarettes. Though some experts believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, the newness of the product means there is a lack of research about long-term effects of using e-cigarettes. There is also ongoing concern about the potential attractiveness of e-cigarettes to teenagers.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans say laws and regulations covering e-cigarettes should be made more strict (64%), while 26% say the regulations should be kept as they are now (26%). Just 5% say these laws and regulations should be less strict.
A desire for stricter regulations is greater among women (71%) and adults aged 65 and older (75%) than among their counterparts. Still, majorities of most groups lean toward toughening regulations on e-cigarettes. The main exception is young adults — those aged 18 to 29, among whom 49% say laws and regulations should be stricter and 42% say they should be kept as they are.
Given the wide support for raising the minimum age for tobacco sales, it’s quite likely that more states will raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco to 21. Pennsylvania could be next if a pending bipartisan bill there makes it through the state’s Senate Health Committee next spring. Efforts to raise the age at the federal level are also in the works, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has introduced legislation with the same goal. The bill has made it through the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and awaits a full Senate vote.
Laws affecting e-cigarettes could be on the horizon too. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is currently digging into a major e-cigarette company’s health claims and marketing efforts to U.S. youth. The outcome of the investigation could mean tighter laws for the industry — which Americans already believe needs to be regulated more strictly.