The tobacco age restriction increased to 21 in New York Wednesday, making it the sixteenth state to increase its tobacco age to 21 in the 21st century. Hawaii was the first state to do so, enacting its increase in June 2015.
The first tobacco age limit in U.S. history was imposed in 1883 in New Jersey and set a minimum age of 16. By 1920, 14 states had a minimum tobacco age of 21. However, over the course of the 1920s and 1930s, many states with age restrictions over 21 lowered their tobacco age limit, often to 18. At the turn of the 21st century, three states (Alabama, Alaska, and Utah) had a tobacco age of 19 and the remaining 47 had a tobacco age of 18.
The increase means that there are now 16 states where the minimum age to purchase or use tobacco is 21, comprising 49% of the U.S. population. Three states have a tobacco age of 19 and the remaining 31 have a tobacco age of 18. The next state where a tobacco age increase will take effect is Washington, whose tobacco age will increase from 18 to 21 on January 1, 2020.
New York’s tobacco age increase was sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and passed the state Assembly by a 120-26 vote. It was merged with a Senate bill sponsored by state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), and passed that chamber by a 52-9 vote. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the bill into law on July 16, 2019.
New York is among eight states with a Democratic trifecta to pass a tobacco age increase. Four states passed a tobacco age increase under a Republican trifecta, and six passed a tobacco age increase under divided government. Nine Democratic governors, including Cuomo, and eight Republican governors have signed tobacco age increases into law.