Tobacco 21 Turns Two
In 2019, Tobacco 21 (T21) became federal law and raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. However, the policy left enforcement in the hands of individual states. Oklahoma lawmakers made this landmark anti-tobacco policy state law just a few months later on May 20, 2020.
The two-year anniversary of its passage provides an opportunity to reflect on its impact on underage tobacco usage in our state — and the progress we still need to make.
How Far We’ve Come
As of May 2022, Oklahoma is one of 37 states to pass T21 legislation. In just two years, the policy has greatly decreased underage tobacco purchases and improved overall health. When tobacco usage plummets, Oklahomans’ length and quality of life soar.
This is a massive victory against Big Tobacco, which has marketed their deadly products to kids for decades, disguised in bright colors and familiar flavors. Prior to T21, youth tobacco addiction was steadily growing and negatively affecting their developing brains. Numerous studies show that most tobacco users start before the age of 18, relying on their older peers to purchase their tobacco. Just as raising the drinking age to 21 reduced the rates of drunk driving among high school students, restricting youth access to tobacco has curbed overall use.
The Long Road Ahead
While T21 has substantially lowered tobacco prevalence, the fight is not over yet. Oklahoma’s adult and high school smoking rates are still above the national average and the state’s policies related to e-cigarettes and synthetic nicotine products are far too lax. Unlike many states, vape companies are not required to regulate packaging or subject to standard tobacco taxes in Oklahoma.
Per usual, Big Tobacco is working hard to find new loopholes and continue targeting teens, and Oklahoma prohibits municipal governments from enacting tobacco ordinances that are stricter than state law.
Tobacco 21 was the first of many steps that will protect young Oklahomans from the burden of nicotine addiction. Two years later, we must continue to harness its momentum and propel Oklahoma toward a future free from the devastating effects of tobacco.