Age requirements for e-cigarette purchases protect U.S. youth

Minimum Legal Sales Age laws for e-cigarettes associated with less or the same cigarette smoking among adolescents

A teenage boy uses an electronic cigarette

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth.  A new study, conducted at RTI International in collaboration with the University of California San Francisco and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that states with age requirements for e-cigarette purchases have the same or less adolescent cigarette smoking compared to states without these age requirements. The results of this study suggest that these minimum age of sale policies benefit youth.

 “Age requirements on all tobacco products are necessary to protect young people from the risks of tobacco use,” explained Lauren Dutra, Ph.D., research public health analyst at RTI and the study’s principal investigator. “Ultimately, these laws have led to less cigarette smoking among adolescents.”

The new study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, analyzed tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes, from over 80,000 adolescents across the United States. It found that the amount of adolescent cigarette smoking was less or the same in states with age requirements on e-cigarettes compared to states without these laws.

The findings from this study are consistent with a 2015 report published by the Institute of Medicine, which found that raising the minimum age of sale to buy tobacco products to at least 21 would reduce youth tobacco product use and save lives. To date, five states (California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Oregon) and hundreds of communities have implemented laws that increased the minimum age of sale of tobacco products to 21.

“If properly enforced, laws that set a minimum age for buying e-cigarettes are effective at preventing youth use,” said Dutra. “In fact, these laws would be much more effective if the age requirement was increased. If the age requirement for all tobacco products was set to 21, we could prevent even more young people from ever trying tobacco products.” 

The study also confirmed the importance of smoke-free indoor air laws. Because of the extensive state and local smoke-free law database housed at RTI, the researchers were able to determine whether each participant in the study was covered by smoke-free laws. The researchers found that adolescents living in areas with smoke-free workplaces were less likely to smoke cigarettes.  They concluded that smoking bans continue to be an important part of protecting youth from tobacco.

Previous research that examined average cigarette use by state and concluded that e-cigarette age requirements were associated with more cigarette smoking among youth did not use individual-level data or account for the use of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products (such as little cigars) among adolescents. This new study, which yielded different results, was the first to account for these factors.