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New York Becomes 17th State in Nation to Raise the Tobacco Buying Age to 21

New law includes all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, and aims to save lives and millions in healthcare costs


ALBANY, NY (July 16, 2019) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo today signed legislation making New York the 17th state in the nation to raise the age of sale for tobacco products to 21. The law, known as Tobacco 21, was approved on March 6, 2019, by 105:23 in the Assembly and 52-8 in the Senate on April 1, 2019, and is expected to decrease the rate of tobacco use among teens by 12 percent.   


Harold Wimmer, President and CEO of the American Lung Association, praised the move as an important statewide public health policy that will prevent and reduce tobacco use, address the youth vaping epidemic and save lives.  

“Today, New York State took a significant step in protecting the health and wellness of its residents – and we are proud to congratulate Governor Cuomo and the New York legislature for their bold leadership in protecting young people from a dangerous addiction to tobacco products,” Wimmer said. “We already know that adolescents and young adults have proven to be uniquely vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction, making this legislation an important, lifesaving measure. With the rise of easily concealable devices and fruit- and candy-flavored tobacco products appealing to youth, Tobacco 21 is more important now than ever before in order to protect children, reduce smoking rates, save on healthcare costs and prevent tobacco-related death and disease. We are eager to celebrate the passage of this law in New York, and will continue our work in fighting for strong Tobacco 21 laws across the nation.”

In New York State, a grassroots effort led by health advocates, parents, teachers, community leaders and student activists successfully passed legislation in local municipalities covering over 75 percent of New Yorkers, resulting in a growing call for statewide legislation. The new law was introduced this session, following a December 2018 announcement by the U.S. Surgeon General calling youth e-cigarette use an epidemic. According the announcement, e-cigarette use increased by a staggering 78 percent among high school students from 2017 to 2018. The report warned that this dramatic change in youth tobacco use could set the stage for another generation of Americans addicted to tobacco products and ultimately more tobacco-caused death and disease.


Elizabeth Hamlin-Berninger, Director of Advocacy in New York for the American Lung Association said, “According to the American Lung Association’s 2019 ‘State of Tobacco Control’ report, over 28 percent of New York’s high school students reported using tobacco products. This law gives us a real opportunity to reduce that number, and prevent more tobacco addiction among our younger generations. Simply, raising the age of sale will reduce the consumption, availability and visibility of these products to our young people – and sends a clear message to parents and guardians that all tobacco products are dangerous and have significant health impacts.


Hamlin-Berninger continued, “This statewide law grew from local governments raising the age of sale in their communities - and it will now play an important role in increasing their efficacy. We are grateful to Representative Rosenthal, Senator Savino and Governor Cuomo for their leadership on this issue and for helping the State of New York to remain a leading national example in preventing and reducing tobacco use.”


Nearly 95 percent of adult smokers report trying their first cigarette before the age of 21. The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) found increasing the minimum age of sale for all tobacco products to 21 could prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer – the nation’s #1 cancer killer. 


Other statewide Tobacco 21 policies have been enacted in Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Maine, Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, Utah, Connecticut, Texas, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., raising the retail sales age of tobacco products to 21. The New York State Law is slated to go into effect in 180 days.