Tobacco 21

18 to 21: Raising the Tobacco Sales Age

Raising the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 to reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults.


Approximately 95% of smokers started smoking before they reached the age of 21.


In Texas over 12,300 kids become daily smokers every year. In El Paso the youth smoking rate for cigarettes is around 16% and approximately 14% for e-cigarette use. 

A primary source of tobacco products for underage smokers are relatives, friends, and strangers that are close in age.

In El Paso, approximately 2,331 18 year-olds will become smokers each year without Texas Tobacco 21.

On average, American youth try smoking for the first time at age 13.7.

In Texas in 2017, 7.4% of high school students identified as a current smoker. For current electronic vapor product use, the number was 16.8%.

In 2017, the Texas Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that 23.9% of 16-17 year olds who reported current cigarette use during the past 30 days got their own cigarettes by buying them in a store or gas station.

To find more data and information click here.

Texas Tobacco 21 is a new law, passed in May of 2019, that regulates tobacco sales and penalties in Texas. Some changes to the previous law include:

  • It requires anyone who appears under the age of 30 to present ID (up from the age of 27).
  • A violation by someone purchasing or attempting to purchase or knowingly providing cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or tobacco products is punishable by:
    • a fine not to exceed $100 and/or
    • a court-ordered tobacco awareness class and/or
    • community service hours
  • Those born before August 31, 2001, are exempt from the new tobacco law.
  • Also, a valid U.S. military identification (federal or state) can be used by persons under 21 years of age but older than 18 years of age to purchase tobacco products.

This law is about keeping tobacco, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, out of the hands of youth and out of schools. Not just high schools but middle schools as well.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs you can use.

Nicotine exposure during adolescence may have long-lasting effects such as increased impulsivity and mood disorders. It may also have long-term effects on the parts of the brain responsible for addiction, learning, and memory. To learn more about this youth, nicotine, and cessation click here.

A National Academy of Medicine report found that among 15-17-year-olds, there was an approximate 25% decrease in the initiation of tobacco use with an increase in the tobacco sales age to 21 years. That is what the aim of this law is – to decrease use among those who should not be using nicotine, to begin with.

E-cigarette use among both youth and young adults has increased considerably in recent years. About one-quarter of U.S. youth and young adults have ever tried e-cigarettes.

The brain is the last organ in the human body to develop fully. Brain development continues until the early to mid-20s. Nicotine exposure during periods of significant brain development, such as adolescence, can disrupt the growth of brain circuits that control attention, learning, and susceptibility to addiction.

While it is true that researchers are still trying to learn more about how e-cigarettes affect health there is sufficient evidence to justify efforts to prevent e-cigarette use by youth and young adults. We know that most (almost 90%) cigarette smokers had their first cigarette by the time they were 18 years old.

Did you know that vaping products, especially pod-mods that use nicotine salts all have nicotine? Trust

The penalties at the state level apply to not only the purchase, but the use and possession of tobacco products. You may be able to buy, but if you are underage – 21 years – and caught using a tobacco product or have it in your possession you can be cited under the law.

Do you want to learn more about getting involved in fighting big tobacco? The Texas Say What program is Texas based and gets you involved in policy in the state and your community. Visit to learn more.

The bill will go into effect on September 1, 2019.

Local law enforcement will be able to enforce this state law. Currently, El Paso County Sheriff conducts compliance checks on vendors for the Texas law.

The City of El Paso Department of Public Health and the Prevention Resource Center at Aliviane, Inc. conduct retail education on an on-going basis.

We are working with the Prevention Resource Center at Aliviane, Inc., to conduct tobacco retail education for owners, managers, and clerks.

Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. (2018, January). 21 Reasons to Raise the Tobacco Sale Age to 21 in Texas. Retrieved from Texas 21:

Crosby, K. (2019). Prevention Teens from Using E-Cigarettes. Youth Tobacco Cessation: Science and Treatment Strategies (p. Slide 11). Washington, D.C.: Institute For Advanced Clinical Trials For Children.

Institute of Medicine. (2015). Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Texas Health and Human Services, Texas Department of State Health Services. (2018, June 1). Texas Health Data. Retrieved from Texas Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, Year 2017:

Tobacco Twenty One. (2018). Reduce and Prevent Youth Smoking in El Paso Texas. Columbus: Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.

truth initiative. (2017). Where we stand: Raising the tobacco age to 21. Washington, D.C.: truth initiative.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General. (2016). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: : HHS.

Wang, T. W. (2016). Harm Perceptions of Intermittent Tobacco Product Use Among U.S. Youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 750-753.

Winickoff, J. P.-B. (2014, November). Retail Impact of Raising Tobacco Sales Age to 21 Years. American Journal of Public Health, 104(11). Retrieved January 1, 2019, from

Why is this an effective strategy? Youth who have friends and family in close proximity, who can legally use tobacco, are more likely to access tobacco products through these people. Raising the sales age can help reduce or eliminate social access.

Key Partners: