Teen Smoking Laws

Two sad young girls smoke
Teenage girls smoking cigarettes outside. (Image: toxawww/iStock/Getty Images)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the 45 million smokers in the United States started smoking as adolescents. There is no federal minimum smoking age, and while most states set the minimum age at 18, a few, such as New Jersey, require teens to be at least 19 to legally purchase tobacco. Teen smoking laws differ between states, as do the potential criminal consequences, so consult an attorney for legal advice if you have specific questions.

Teen Possession

States have various laws that prohibit some teens from buying, using or possessing tobacco products. For example, the state of Kansas restricts anyone under the age of 18 from possessing any tobacco product. Kansas Statutes Annotated 79-3321 states that it is unlawful for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase, possess or attempt to purchase or possess any tobacco product. Anyone found guilty is guilty of a tobacco infraction, fined $25 and can be required by a judge to appear before the court with a parent or legal guardian.

Providing Tobacco to Teens

States also prohibit the sale of tobacco products to teenagers under 18 years old. Florida, for example, prohibits anyone from providing any tobacco to anyone under the age of 18. Florida Statutes 569.101 states that it is a crime for anyone to sell, deliver, trade, provide or give tobacco products to underage people. The crime is considered a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. However, anyone convicted of the crime twice or more within a year is guilty of a first degree misdemeanor, with punishments of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Defenses

States that criminalize selling or providing tobacco products to teens also make allowances for sellers. For example, the Florida law states that anyone who provides tobacco to someone under the age of 18 has a complete defense against the crime if the person can show: the teen falsely proved she was at least 18, a reasonably prudent person would believe the teen was at least 18 or the person acted in good faith by carefully checking the teen's identification and relied upon such an ID in providing the teen tobacco.

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