Minimum smoking age now 21 in Oregon; supporters say it’ll save lives; opponents say it won’t deter youth

A woman smokes a cigarette on September 6, 2012 in Paris. AFP PHOTO ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/GettyImages)

OREGON — The new year means you must be at least 21 years of age to purchase tobacco products in Oregon. The smoking age was raised to 21 from 18 — with some saying the move will save lives, and other saying it won’t stop young people from getting their hands on tobacco products. Oregon has become the fifth state in the country to adopt this law.

The law calls for fines for businesses that sell tobacco products to people under the age of 21. The fines range from $50 to $1,000.

“If you can go to war, you can vote, you can do all that, you wait till you turn 18 to get some type of freedom and they want to take it away from you. I don’t think it’s right,” Troy Wines said.

Wines shops at Timber Valley Tobaccos, a small business in Beaverton, Oregon. Customers under the age of 21 can no longer walk through the doors.

“I think it’s redundant to spend time making a law or, you know, changing it because people are gonna get it anyways,” Brittany Parriett said.

Timber Valley employees didn’t want to speak out on camera, but did say they don’t believe it will hurt business too badly. An 18-year-old customer shopping on New Year’s Eve echoed that sentiment.

“Just have a friend pick it up. I mean, it’s not gonna change anything for anyone who smokes. It’s not like you want to stop because it’s illegal now,” he said.

But people and organizations in support of the change said it’ll save lives. The American Lung Association launched Tobacco 21, an initiative to increase the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21 nationwide — noting the below facts:

  • Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States.
  • The most adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21.
  • Younger kids often rely on older classmates, ages 18 and 19, to supply them with tobacco products.
  • Since few students reach 21 while still in high school, raising the minimum sales age to 21 virtually eliminates high school students from legally buying tobacco, and helps break the peer supply chain to many of these younger smokers.

Doing this, they say, could save as many as 223,000 lives for babies born between 2000 and 2019.

“I think that maybe it’ll benefit the youth of not being able to get their hands on it as soon,” Kelsey Conkling said.