National legislation was introduced last month by Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) to increase the federal minimum age from 18 to 21 for the purchase or use of tobacco products. So Ballotpedia, the nonpartisan online political encyclopedia, decided it was a good time to look at tobacco laws at the state level.
What it found was that New Jersey has a singular history on tobacco regulation and in fact was ahead of the curve on the issue of age restrictions. It passed the first law in the United States restricting the sale of tobacco to those age 16 or older in — wait for it — 1883. Other states followed and by 1920, 46 states had implemented an age limit for tobacco sales.
The minimum age ticked up over time in most states. It finally went to 21 in New Jersey in 2017 when then Gov. Chris Christie signed a law putting that age restriction on the sale of all tobacco, including e-cigarettes.
It seems almost quaint nowadays to worry about the smoking of regular cigarettes by youngsters given the “epidemic” of vaping among teenagers and the big push being made at both federal and state levels to curb it. But plenty of young people are still puffing on old-fashioned smokes — about 5 million middle and high schoolers were tobacco users in 2018, according to federal data.