Kids should not smoke or use tobacco products. As manufacturers of products intended for adults, Altria Group's tobacco companies have an important role to play in preventing underage tobacco use.
Our companies have long supported legislation to prevent underage access to tobacco products. We have advocated for strong minimum age laws in all U.S. jurisdictions. We lobbied for federal legislation enacted in 2009 empowering FDA to comprehensively regulate tobacco products – including provisions specifically intended to reduce underage use. And, most recently, we played a leadership role in advancing legislation in all states extending existing minimum age statutes to cover emerging product categories like e-vapor.
Getting to the root of the issue
While underage tobacco use of conventional tobacco products is at the lowest levels in a generation, the use of e-vapor products among 12-17 year olds has increased alarmingly in the past year. Citing data showing increases of e-vapor use of 80 percent among high schoolers and 50 percent among middle schoolers, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has characterized this trend as an “epidemic." The U.S. Surgeon General has reached the same conclusion.
In light of the FDA's call to address this issue, we believe the time has come to enact legislation raising the minimum age for all tobacco products to 21. We are supporting this step because we believe it is the most effective step available to address underage tobacco use, including reverse rising underage e-vapor rates. Data shows that youth under 18 get tobacco products – including e-vapor – primarily through "social access," that is, from friends or siblings who are 18 or older. Approximately 80 percent of high school students in the U.S. turn 18 years old before they graduate. By raising the minimum age to 21, no high school student should be able to purchase tobacco products legally.
Preserving a public health opportunity
We believe this policy change is important for preserving the reduced harm potential of non-combustible technologies like smokeless tobacco, e-vapor and heat-not-burn products for millions of adult smokers who want access to these products. There is a growing public health consensus that products that do not burn and produce no smoke are significantly less harmful than conventional cigarettes. While nicotine is addictive, it is the smoke from conventional cigarettes – not the nicotine – that leads to most tobacco-related harm. Smokeless tobacco and new and emerging technologies like e-vapor and heat-not-burn tobacco products offer tremendous promise for reducing health risk among adults who smoke. But FDA has made clear that this harm reduction future cannot be fully achieved without doing more to reverse underage e-vapor use rates.
Altria’s tobacco companies also support enactment of state laws to prevent underage access that complement FDA authority. Such state legislation would:
- prohibit anyone from purchasing tobacco products for, or distributing tobacco products to, a minor;
- prohibit the purchase or possession of tobacco products by minors or the use of false identification by a minor during an attempt to purchase tobacco products; and
- require minimum-age-to-purchase signs at retail stores and require valid proof of age for all tobacco product purchases.