Legal Age for Smoking: What Is the Law in the US and Europe?
What Is the Legal Age for Smoking?
The legal age for smoking is the minimum age required to purchase or use tobacco products. In addition, most countries have laws that prohibit the sale of tobacco products to people of a certain age, meaning all merchants selling tobacco products must have an age verification system in place.
In most countries, the legal smoking age is at least 18 or 19. However, there are some exceptions, such as the US, which recently set a legal smoking age of 21; Egypt, which allows smoking above the age of 14; and Austria, which has a legal smoking age of 16.
In this Article:
- Legal Smoking Age in the USA
- Legal Smoking Age in Europe
- Age Verification for Tobacco Products
- Legal Age Verification with BlueCheck
Legal Smoking Age in the USA
Until December 2019, the legal smoking age in the US was 18. However, because Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, the American Lung Association supported raising the legal age to 21. This legislation, known as Tobacco 21 or T21, was included in the federal year-end legislation package at the end of 2019, passed by both houses, and signed by President Trump. It took effect on December 20, 2019.
In several US states, the legal age was already 21 even before the T21 law:
- 19 US states had a legal smoking age of 21 before December 2019
- 19 more states set the age to 19 after the T21 law was passed.
The main goal of raising the legal smoking age is to discourage high school and college students from buying tobacco products for themselves and their younger friends, thus preventing or delaying tobacco use by teenagers.
Legal Smoking Age in Europe
In the EU, “age of sale” laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors were first proposed in the 2003 European Commission Recommendation (Recommendation 2003/54/EC, non-binding). These recommendations focused on measures to reduce the supply of tobacco to youth.
In addition, Article 16 of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control prohibits countries from selling tobacco products to minors. This Article is legally binding and has been signed and ratified by all European countries. However, Article 16 does not specify an exact smoking age limit, leaving it open to interpretation.
Here is a quick review of the evolution of smoking age laws in European countries:
- In the 1970s, Scandinavian countries had a legal smoking age of 16.
- Between 1995-and 1997, most Scandinavian countries adopted a minimum age of 18.
- From 2002-to 2004, several Eastern European countries adopted a minimum age of 18 (some of these countries did not have a previous smoking age restriction).
- In 2002, Ireland increased its smoking age from 16 to 18.
- Between 2006-and 2009, many European countries adopted a smoking age of 18, including Denmark, France, Portugal, Spain, England, and Scotland.
- In 2014, the Netherlands adopted a smoking age of 18 in 2014.
- At the time of this writing, Belgium and Austria are the only two European countries with a smoking age of 16.
Significant current trends in smoking legislation include:
- Discussion among European lawmakers about increasing the legal smoking age to 21, inspired by the T21 law in the US. There is active discussion on this in the UK parliament.
- The smoke-free generation movement in Ireland, France, the Netherlands, and other countries, aims to reduce adolescent smoking to under 5%. This movement pushes several European countries to adopt more restrictive anti-smoking policies such as display bans, plain packaging, and smoke-free playgrounds.
Age Verification for Tobacco Products
Age verification is relatively easy for offline stores selling tobacco products or e-cigarettes. However, due to legislation in most countries, stores and supermarkets require proof of age when selling tobacco, alcohol, or other restricted items.
Online age verification is a more significant challenge. Online stores selling tobacco products have long had to implement tools to ensure that buyers are at the appropriate age. However, these tools vary widely in efficiency and impact customer convenience.
Related content: Read our guide to age verification online
Age verification software can verify the age of an online buyer. Modern solutions work as follows:
- The buyer attempts to purchase an age-restricted product.
- The age verification solution asks the buyer to upload a file with an identity document such as a government ID, passport, or driver’s license.
- The solution scans and extracts age data from the document.
- Advanced solutions combine this with face recognition, live video, or additional measures to ensure the buyer is the person pictured in the identity document.
- If age verification is successful, the buyer is allowed to purchase the product.
- The solution leaves a record of the age verification process for audit and compliance purposes.
Legal Age Verification with BlueCheck
BlueCheck’s industry-leading identity verification infrastructure enables merchants to grow their business faster. Serving a wide variety of industries, our solutions are custom-tailored to the unique needs of our customers, including PACT Act and eCommerce compliant offerings.