Anchorage Assembly votes to raise minimum age for tobacco, nicotine purchases to 21

Starting next month, only adults 21 and older will be able to buy tobacco and nicotine products in Alaska’s largest city, the Anchorage Assembly voted at its Tuesday meeting.

An ordinance unanimously passed by the body raises the age requirement from 19 to 21 for the purchase of tobacco products in an effort to reduce access to those products by young people. The new regulation also applies to electronic smoking devices — such as vape pens — and other products that contain nicotine.

The Assembly’s change is part of a sweeping trend in recent years of cities and states around the country raising the age of purchase for such products to 21.

The ordinance cited national data that shows 95% of adult smokers start smoking before age 21, “and that the ages of 18 to 21 are a critical period" when smokers shift from experimental smoking to daily use.

“There’s just a lot of potential if we can raise that age, which we did, to literally save people’s lives,” said Assemblywoman Austin Quinn-Davidson, one of the sponsors of the measure.

Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths annually in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent years, use of electronic cigarettes has spiked among young people in the U.S., according to data from the CDC.

Statewide, the age for buying tobacco products is 19. Last year, Sitka was the first community in Alaska to pass a measure raising that to 21. Anchorage is the second.

The ordinance goes into effect Aug. 20, which is the first day of school for the Anchorage School District.

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.