Raising the Legal Tobacco Purchase and Use Age to 21 in Utah

At a Glance:

Location: Utah

Date: 2015

Vital Condition: Basic Needs for Health and Safety

Determinants of Health: substance use, substance use

Affected Population: Children and Youth

Research Methods: Qualitative research, Primary research, Literature review

Community Types: tribal, urban, suburban, rural

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Utah legislators were urged by coalitions and associations to consider raising the legal age of tobacco purchases from 19 to 21. During the 2015 legislative session, In response to requests from civic coalitions and associations, Representative Powell proposed a bill to raise the legal age of tobacco purchases from 19 to 21 in 2015. A team of public health graduate students conducted a rapid HIA to inform legislators about the bill’s potential impacts to social determinants of health.

Findings and recommendations

The HIA found that the proposed policy would have significant positive health impacts on various social determinants of health. Possible outcomes include significantly reduced health care spending, a reduction in the number of lifelong smokers, lower rates of teens and adults who are addicted to nicotine, benefits to mental health, and a reduction in years of potential life lost. Recommendations include:

  • Raising the legal age of purchasing and consuming cigarettes and other tobacco products from 19 to 21, including on military bases;
  • Using active law enforcement to improve compliance similar to Massachusetts;
  • Overcoming potential decreased tax revenue through a modest tax increase similar to California,
  • Engaging both education and enforcement to help reduce overall underage use through resource assistance from Utah Department of Health, as modeled by Harlem, NY;
  • Providing education for retailers to help them better understand and support compliance


The bill was ultimately defeated. Although cited by the bill’s proponents, it is unknown whether its opponents considered the HIA’s findings and recommendations.

This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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