Description of Strategy
The Minimum Legal Purchase Age (MLPA) and Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) specify an age below which purchase or public consumption of alcoholic beverages and tobacco are illegal. In the United States the MLDA is 21 years old for alcoholic beverages, and the MLPA is 18 years old for tobacco.
Minors obtain alcohol and tobacco from two major sources: retail sources and social sources—such as acquaintances, relatives, and friends. Raising the MLPA and MLDA could reduce youth access to alcohol and tobacco in the retail market. Youth under 18 years of age have contact with their 18-year old peers who can legally purchase tobacco. Raising the MLPA of tobacco could potentially reduce youth access to tobacco through social sources (Guide to Community Preventive Services, 2000).
Discussion of Effectiveness
Evidence supports the effectiveness of maintaining the MLDA for reducing underage use. MLDA is related to alcohol-related traffic crashes; traffic fatalities go up as the drinking age is lowered (Guide to Community Preventive Services, 2000; McCartt, Hellinga, & Kirley, 2010; Wagenaar & Toomey, 2002). According to a systematic review (University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, 2014) there is strong evidence that the current MLDA reduces alcohol-impaired driving and alcohol-related crashes. There is also some evidence that the MLDA has decreased alcohol consumption among young adults.
Evidence supports an increase in the MLPA for reducing tobacco use among youth (Millett, Lee, Gibbons, & Glantz, 2011). A systematic review by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (2016) found models suggesting that an increase of the MLPA from age 18 to 21 would decrease smoking prevalence by 12%. The models also predict lower future mortality rates and substantially lower treatment costs as a result of the increased MLPA.