In 2016 California passed a regulation raising the tobacco sales age limit from 18 to 21. Conducted by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, the study titled, “New research investigates the effects of California’s tobacco 21 minimum sales age law,” looked into the effects of this measure.
The compiled data indicated that the T21 law had positive public health effects on 7th, 9th, and 11th grade students from across California. The findings were summarized on News-Medical as follows:
- “Reduced prevalence of lifetime smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette use, and past month smokeless tobacco use in the overall student population.
- Increases in prevalence of past month e-cigarette use.
- Reductions in lifetime and past-30-day use of all tobacco and nicotine products among Latinx youth.
- Differential, but positive public health effects for other racial and ethnic groups.”
The age limit increase only impacted regular smokers
An earlier study by UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, had reported mixed results. Researchers Melanie Dove, Susan Stewart and Elisa Tong, analysed such patterns before and after the law was implemented. Subsequently, they compared California to other states which don’t have a T21 policy in place, examining data from the 2012-2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
The study showed that the new T21 law was indeed associated with a greater decrease in tobacco use, at least when it came to daily smoking. “Before California’s T21 policy, there was an 11% annual decrease in the odds of ever smoking among 18–20 year-olds in California and a 6% decrease in the referent states. After the policy, these trends did not change significantly. Results for current smoking were similar. For daily smoking, there was an 8% annual decrease before the policy and a 26% annual decrease after the policy among 18–20 year-olds in California; D-I-D estimates were 0.80 (95% CI: 0.57, 1.14) using referent states as the comparison and 0.62 (95% CI: 0.41, 0.95) using 21–23 year-olds in California as the comparison,” reported the study Abstract.
No decrease in ‘non-daily’ smoking rates 18–20 year-olds
However, the measure failed to impact its target audience. “There was an association between California’s T21 policy and a decrease in daily smoking among 18–20 year-olds, compared with 21–23 year-olds, more than three years post-implementation,” concluded the researchers.
The researchers speculate that the reason may be that these users may be experimenting, don’t smoke regularly and often obtain cigarettes from peers. Moreover, there was no associated decrease in ‘ever’ or ‘current’ smoking patterns with California’s T21 law, at least three years post-implementation.