The town of Needham, Massachusetts has found raising the tobacco sales age to 21 has significantly reduced the teen smoking rate, according to The New York Times.
In 2005, Needham raised the tobacco sales age, while surrounding communities kept theirs at 18, the article notes.
In a newly published study, researchers surveyed 16,000 high school students in Needham and surrounding communities about their smoking habits four times between 2006 and 2012.
The number of teens under 18 who purchased cigarettes in Needham dropped from 18.4 percent to 11.6 percent during that period, while in surrounding communities the rate stayed at around 19 percent.
The findings appear in Tobacco Control.
In 2006, 12.9 percent of Needham students and 14.8 percent of those in surrounding communities reported having smoked in the past month. By 2010, 6.7 percent of Needham students reported smoking, compared with 12 percent in surrounding towns. By 2012, teen smoking had dropped to 5.5 percent in Needham and 8.5 percent in nearby communities.
The legal age to purchase tobacco is 19 in Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah. The minimum age has been raised to 21 in dozens of cities and towns, including New York.
The Institute of Medicine issued a report earlier this year that concluded if every state were to immediately ban tobacco sales to those under 21, the smoking rate would fall 12 percent. The decrease would prevent 249,000 premature deaths among the generation born between 2000 and 2019, the report noted.
A 2009 law that gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco forbids the agency from setting a legal purchasing age for tobacco older than 18. The law required the FDA to study the consequences of raising the minimum age.
Of the estimated 249,000 premature deaths prevented by raising the purchasing age, 45,000 would be from lung cancer, the report stated.