As the nation's leading tobacco companies, we have an important role in reducing underage tobacco use. For more than two decades, Altria's tobacco companies have made significant investments to prevent kids from using tobacco. These efforts include:
- supporting programs and organizations that positively influence kids and their decision not to engage in risky behaviors like tobacco use;
- providing parents with tools to help them raise kids who don't use tobacco;
- supporting trade programs, retailer training and legislative efforts that help prevent underage access to tobacco products; and
- taking steps designed to limit reach of their brands and marketing materials to unintended audiences.
Today, underage use of conventional tobacco products is at the lowest levels in a generation. Retailers are more effective at keeping tobacco products out of kids' hands. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation covers nearly every aspect of how tobacco products are manufactured, marketed and sold.
However, the significant rise in youth use of e-vapor threatens to undermine the hard-fought gains made in preventing underage use of conventional tobacco products. Tobacco manufacturers, regulators and policy-makers must immediately do more to reverse this trend. We support the FDA's commitment to leverage its authority and resources to take additional steps to address these new, emerging issues associated with underage use, while continuing the progress that's been made on traditional products.
Altria is committed to being part of the solution. In addition to our long-standing efforts, we're advocating for legislation to raise the minimum age for all tobacco products to 21. We believe this is the most effective step available to reverse rising underage e-vapor rates. Data shows that youth under 18 get tobacco products – including e-vapor – primarily through social sources, like 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.
We also encourage FDA to take action industry-wide, specifically in the form of banning retail and vape store sales of all non-traditional flavors until the youth issue is addressed, such as by the use of advanced age verification technology or pre-market authorization. For its part, JUUL has stopped shipment of all non-traditional flavored products – that is, flavors other than tobacco, menthol and mint – to retail outlets, offering them only online to consumers 21+ with enhanced age verification processes.
Additionally, in February 2019 we announced our planned investment of an additional $100 million over two years, beyond our current investments in underage tobacco prevention, to help address youth e-vapor use. We are working with stakeholders, including the FDA, to determine how best to allocate these resources to complement existing efforts toward the goal of preventing youth tobacco use.