Walgreens raising tobacco purchase age to 21 has others following their lead

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - With the increase of teen smoking in South Dakota and across the country some retailers are raising their tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21. Some who are fighting teen smoking said this has become an epidemic for the state.

Right now here in South Dakota you have to be 18-years-old to purchase any kind of tobacco product, but some organizations want to see this age go up to 21 to make sure these products aren't easily accessible to teenagers.

"I think it's a great idea in my opinion. I think it should just be banned in general," Sioux Falls resident, Justin Brown said.

Walgreens is leading the fight to end underage smoking. They’ve recently announced they will raise the minimum age to 21 to purchase tobacco products at their more than 9,000 stores across the country.

With that change other states across the country may be looking at following their lead.

"And as we're seeing the emergence of these e-cigarettes and it becoming a public health epidemic it's clear that we need to start looking at ways of addressing the access and use of e-cigarettes by our youth," American Cancer Society Government Relations Director, David Benson said.

David Benson with the American Cancer Society believes the issue of underage smoking needs to be addressed before teen smoking rates get any higher.

"At the same time when you've got 95% of current adult smokers who started smoking before the age of 21 this is one area of many that we can look at to have a lasting impact on the public health of future generations," Benson said.

And some local Sioux Falls residents agree.

"I think it's a great idea because like you said a lot of people are buying for younger people in high school and I think that when you're younger you can get addicted quickly," Sioux Falls resident, Laura Brown said.

"Tobacco does nothing for anybody but cause harm and health issues," Justin Brown said.

South Dakota state leaders already took steps to eliminate easy access to tobacco products.

"E-cigarettes and the smoke free law in indoor spaces that we have in South Dakota, continuing to raise the tax on tobacco products all of these will have an impact on the rates that we have here in South Dakota," Benson said.

A bill was brought up back in the 2018 legislative session. The bill made it to the floor but was unsuccessful and those who want to see this age hike occur will bring this issue to light again in 2020.

The American Cancer Society said by raising the purchase age to 21 or simply raising prices of these products may have a bigger impact on the tobacco issues we're currently facing today.