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Ohio Raises Legal Tobacco Use Age to 21, but Will it Curb Teen Addiction to Nicotine?

An open pack of cigarettes

Ohio governor Mark DeWine recently signed a state budget bill that raises the legal age for purchasing and using tobacco products to 21 years old. State officials hope that teen addiction issues will be decreased through such legislation. The bill in Ohio includes other parameters set around the use of tobacco or nicotine products, including:

  • Increasing the age limit not just for cigarettes but also alternative products with nicotine and cigarette papers
  • Increased age limit for vapor products, including e-cigarettes and vape pens
  • Posting signs wherever nicotine products are sold that publicize the age increase

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14% of adults in the United States smoke cigarettes. General tobacco use has decreased from 20.9% of adults in 2005. One demographic that has seen an increase in tobacco use is teens. According to the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 11.7% of high schoolers use e-cigarettes, compared to 1.5% in 2011. 25 countries have banned e-cigarettes entirely and 35 countries don’t allow advertisements for e-cigarettes. Ohio has taken this legislative step to prevent teen use of nicotine. 

Ohio Not the First State to Raise Legal Nicotine Purchase Age

In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration issued a ruling that placed it in a regulatory capacity for all tobacco products. The guidelines they would enforce included a federal minimum age for tobacco purchase of 18 years old. States like Ohio have seen the damage of teen addiction to nicotine and taken this guideline a step further. The states who currently have a tobacco purchase or use age of 21 years old are:

  1. Arkansas
  2. California
  3. Connecticut
  4. Delaware
  5. Hawaii
  6. Illinois
  7. Maine
  8. Maryland
  9. Massachusetts
  10. New Jersey
  11. New York
  12. Ohio
  13. Oregon
  14. Texas
  15. Utah
  16. Vermont
  17. Virginia
  18. Washington

Washington D.C. and nearly 500 other localities have also raised the age for tobacco. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a law called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which provided required warning labels on tobacco products. In 2018, Surgeon General Jerome Adams stated that teen e-cigarette use was an epidemic. The advisory from the Surgeon General specifically referenced teen Juul use.

Teens using Juul are attracted to its trendiness and youthful accessories and flavors. One survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that as many as 66% of teens don’t know that there is nicotine in their e-cigarette. The series of issues represented by underage tobacco use have prompted many conscientious lawmakers to take proactive steps.

Raising the minimum age requirement for tobacco is done for several reasons. A committee sponsored by the FDA studied the implications on public health of raising the age for tobacco products. They definitively concluded that raising the minimum age directly impacted the prevalence of use and the likelihood of developing diseases later in life.

Dangers of Teen Vaping and Smoking

Ohio’s statute contains many positive elements which could effectively prevent teen use of tobacco products. Including vape products in the definition of alternative products with nicotine is an important element that addresses teen e-cigarette use. Teen vaping is a common way that adolescents are introduced to tobacco products. Teens and vaping can be a gateway to teen smoking and long-term addiction. 30.7% of teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to start smoking within six months. Smoking is addictive, can negatively impact brain development in adolescence and may ultimately lead to substance abuse issues.

Law Only As Effective As Its Enforcers

Teens smoking cigarettes may be declining in states where legislation has been passed. Officials have to analyze many social dynamics in those states, including how many teens smoke cigarettes. Nicotine laws that deal with age restrictions require enforcement. An organization that promotes raising the tobacco age to 21, Tobacco Twenty-One, explains that enforcement measures should precede legislation. Suggested measures include:

  • Assigning enforcement to a specific agency
  • Funding for enforcement
  • Compliance check requirements
  • Licensing revocation as a penalty for non-compliance
  • A method of receiving citizen feedback
  • Signage enforcement at retailers
  • Education for retailers

This and other enforcement protocol are considered by officials as part of new legislation.

Preventing Teen Addiction to Nicotine and Other Substances

Officials hope that this law will promote prevent teen addiction to nicotine. Addiction that begins in the teen years can lead to a life of addiction issues. Preventing substance abuse early is one smart strategy to avoid future health-related challenges.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States.” Reviewed February 4, 2019. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Department of Health and Human Services. “Surgeon General releases advisory on E-cigarette epidemic among youth.” December 18, 2018. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Food and Drug Administration. “The Facts on the FDA’s New Tobacco Rule.” June 16, 2016. Accessed August 20, 2019.

The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine. “Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products.” March 12, 2015. Accessed August 20, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Teens and E-cigarettes.” Updated February 2016. Accessed August 20, 2019. “Office of Research and Drafting Bill Analysis H.B. 166.” N.D. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Tobacco Control Legal Consortium. “Tobacco Product Labeling and Advertising Warnings.” July 2009. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Tobacco Twenty-One. “Enforcement Memo.” N.D. Accessed August 20, 2019. “E-cigarettes: Facts, stats and regulations.” July 19, 2018. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Yuan, Menglu et al. “Nicotine and the adolescent brain.” The Journal of Physiology, August 15, 2015. Accessed August 20, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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