Why T21 Laws Matter: Getting Ahead of the Pack
Tobacco 21 & What You Need to Know
In December 2019, the federal government passed Tobacco 21 legislation. The new law raises the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. This landmark anti-tobacco legislation is poised to prevent thousands of kids from getting their hands on tobacco products.
Although the law passed at the federal level, individual states hold the keys to actual enforcement. That’s why Oklahoma lawmakers are working to pass state-level legislation to align with the federal law. Doing so will give law enforcement, retailers and Oklahoma residents the clarity they need.
The Distribution Pipeline
Teens aren’t getting their nicotine products from older adults. Instead, they get them from slightly older peers — the people they hang out with most often. Nine out of ten people who supply cigarettes to minors are just 18-20 years old. Raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21 cuts out the middleman. Known collectively as Tobacco 21, or “T21,” these policies eliminate a critical pipeline for getting tobacco into the hands of minors.
The Consequences of Teen Tobacco Use
Tobacco companies are profiting at the expense of healthy teen brains. Exposure to nicotine during adolescence disrupts brain development, which continues until at least age 25.
Young adults are still developing the brain structures that control:
• Peer susceptibility and conformity
Over the years, youth tobacco use in Oklahoma has steadily grown. How does it stop? By enacting laws that raise the purchasing age to 21 for all tobacco and vapes products. It is the most surefire way of protecting our youth.
The Case for Tobacco 21
According to a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, passing T21 legislation could:
- Prevent 223,000 premature deaths
- Prevent 50,000 deaths specifically from lung cancer
- Reduce smoking prevalence by an additional 12%
The passing of Tobacco 21 at the state level gives retailers and law enforcement the guidance they need to keep tobacco products out of the hands of young Oklahomans.
Alignment with Federal Regulations
All told, Big Tobacco spends more than $172 million a year marketing in Oklahoma. Their colorful packaging and flavored products hook kids on nicotine, forging customers for life. It’s chillingly effective, with 9 out of 10 smokers starting by age 21. That’s Not OK.
To guarantee protection against Big Tobacco, Oklahoma state law must align itself with the new federal Tobacco 21 law. State legislation will offer detailed enforcement guidelines, as well as regulations for Oklahoma-based tobacco retailers.
Join the Fight
Young Oklahomans deserve to grow up unburdened by the devastating effects of tobacco use — and current support is overwhelming. 74 percent of Oklahomans support Tobacco 21, including the majority of current smokers.
It’s time to listen to the majority — especially those who are grappling with the consequences of addiction. For Oklahoma, the next logical step is aligning state law with newly passed federal Tobacco 21 laws.