Senate passes bill to update state tobacco purchase age to 21


STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, updating state law to match the federal law enacted shortly before the pandemic started.

Senator Coyne, who has been sponsoring the legislation since 2016, said she was relieved when the change occurred nationwide, because it could help prevent addiction, saving lives and health care dollars.

“Most smokers start and become addicted when they are teenagers. Raising the legal age for tobacco purchases makes a significant difference in access for young people, reducing their likelihood to develop a potentially lethal lifelong addiction. The more we can hold off on young people starting smoking, the better the effect is on public health and families,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence). “I’m grateful that the age has been raised to 21 across the country, and pleased to change our state law to comply.”

The bill applies to all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes.

A 2015 report  by the Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) drew strong conclusions that raising the tobacco age to 21 will have a substantial positive impact on public health and save lives. 

The study estimated that raising the age of tobacco purchase to 21 nationwide would result in a 25 percent reduction in youth smoking initiation, a 12 percent reduction in smoking rates overall, and 16,000 fewer preterm or low birth weight births in the first five years, and prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in children born by 2015.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, national data shows that about 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. The ages of 18 to 21 are also a critical period when many smokers move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use. While less than half of adult smokers (46 percent) became daily smokers before age 18, four out of five do so before they turn 21.

Changing the tobacco purchase age to 21 was a priority of health advocates in Rhode Island and nationwide, including Prevention Coalition BAY Team of Barrington, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.



For an electronic version of this and all press releases published by the Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau, please visit our website at