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March 26, 2018

Connecticut lawmakers are considering raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The proposed legislation would also increase the purchasing age of tobacco harm reduction products (THR), such as smokeless tobacco or snus, and electronic cigarettes and vaping devices, from 18 to 21.


Such policies greatly limit individual freedom. At the age of 18, individuals can be drafted to war, tried as adults in court, vote, own property, and be held liable to massive contractual debts such as student loans. Governments should not impose policies that prevent 18-year old adults from making individual choices.


Although Connecticut lawmakers intend for the proposal to mitigate youth consumption of tobacco products, there is minimal evidence these policies actually deter youths from smoking. In 2015, 58 percent of U.S. high school seniors used alcohol within the year and 35 percent reported using marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Consuming either of these products is illegal for persons under the age of 21 in all 50 states, yet age restrictions played no role in halting youth from consuming these substances.


Ninety percent of tobacco users start smoking before age 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016. According to the U.S. Drug and Food Administration “86% of 15 to 17 year olds obtained cigarettes” from alternative social sources—such as siblings, friends, parents, and strangers. Age restrictions cannot address these sources.


The most troubling aspect of the Connecticut proposal is the treatment of THR products as if they are the same as tobacco cigarettes. This presumption is erroneous and is dangerous for public health. Evidence continues to show that THR products are safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes and provide important public health benefits.


Brad Rodu, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, has researched the health effects of smokeless tobacco products for more than 20 years. According to his research, smokeless tobacco is “at least 98 percent safer than smoking, even though most Americans are misinformed about the differences in risk.”


A growing body of research proves the value of e-cigarettes and vaping products as tobacco harm reduction tools. In 2017, vaping was declared “less harmful than smoking” by NHS Health Scotland. A 2016 report stated health hazards from e-cigarettes were “unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco,” according to the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians. Public Health England, one of the first groups to urge the use of electronic cigarettes, stated in 2015 that e-cigarette use “is around 95% safer than smoking.”


E-cigarette use results in “reduced short-term adverse health outcomes in several organs” as compared to cigarette smoking, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded in a January 2018 report. In February 2018, the American Cancer Society noted according to the “currently available evidence, using current generation e-cigarettes is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.”


Current evidence also suggests the use of THR products could provide relief to state budgets. J. Scott Moody, chief executive officer and chief economist at State Budget Solutions, examined the economic impact of e-cigarette use on Medicaid costs. Moody concluded Medicaid savings could have amounted to $48 billion in 2012 if e-cigarettes had been adopted in place of combustible cigarettes by Medicaid recipients currently consuming tobacco products.


Connecticut lawmakers should reject proposals to limit choices for individuals between the ages of 18 and 21. Instead, policymakers should foster improvement of the health and economic well-being of Connecticut residents by allowing these individuals to use THR products should they choose to do so.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute or Tobacco Harm Reduction 101.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Link Majority of Vaping-Related Hospitalizations to THC: Welcome
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