Minimum Age of Purchase for Alcohol and Tobacco

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

Alcohol

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.

Tobacco

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.

References

Strategy Description

Guide to Community Preventive Services. (2000). Reducing alcohol-impaired driving: Maintaining current minimum legal drinking age laws.

Evidence Base

Guide to Community Preventive Services. (2000). Reducing alcohol-impaired driving: Maintaining current minimum legal drinking age laws.

McCartt, A. T., Hellinga, L. A., & Kirley, B. B. (2010). The effects of minimum legal drinking age 21 laws on alcohol-related driving in the United States. Journal of Safety Research, 41(2), 173–181. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2010.01.002

Millett, C., Lee, J. T., Gibbons, D. C., & Glantz, S. A. (2011). Increasing the age for the legal purchase of tobacco in England: Impacts on socioeconomic disparities in youth smoking. Thorax, 66(10), 862–865. doi:10.1136/thx.2010.154963

Sundh, M., & Hagquist, C. (2007). Does a minimum-age law for purchasing tobacco make any difference? Swedish experiences over eight years. The European Journal of Public Health, 17(2), 171–177. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckl109

Toomey, T.L. & Wagenaar, A.C. Environmental policies to reduce college drinking: Options and research findings. Journal of Studies on Alcohol Supplement 14, 193-205, 2002.

Wagenaar, A. C. & Toomey, T. L. (2002). Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Review and analyses of the literature from 1960 to 2000. Jour-nal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Suppl. 14, 206.

University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (2017). Tobacco Taxes. Retrieved October 25, 2017

University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (2017). Minimum drinking age laws. Retrieved October 25, 2017

Futher Reading

Ahmad, S. & Billimek, J. (2007). Limiting youth access to tobacco: Comparing the long-term health impacts of increasing cigarette excise taxes and raising the legal smoking age to 21 in the United States. Health Policy, 80(3), 378–391. doi:10.1016/j.healthpol.2006.04.001

National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). A Call to Action: Recommendations for addressing excessive college drinking.

Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium. (n.d.). Policy factsheet: Enforcement of Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) Laws.