Giving or selling cigarettes to anyone who is less than 18 years old is illegal and a crime. Depending on the state in which this infraction occurs, the person who has given or sold the cigarettes to the minor faces specific fines and perhaps incarceration.
Depending on the State...
In Massachusetts, for example, if a person sells chewing tobacco, a cigarette, snuff or any type of tobacco to a minor he will be punished by a fine that is not less than $100 if it’s a first offense. If it’s a second offense the fine is $200. A third offense or future offenses result in a $200 fine.
In New Jersey, anyone who sells or offers tobacco products to a person under 19 years of age must pay a penalty of up to $1,000 and may have his license revoked or suspended.
It has been against the law since 1991, when the Synar law was passed by Congress, to sell or give tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. State governments have passed their own laws regarding this issue in addition to abiding by the Synar law. Some states prohibit minors from possessing tobacco. In other states, it is not against the law for a minor to possess a tobacco product.
Breaking the Law
Giving tobacco to a minor violates the same laws that prohibit selling tobacco to a minor. Even if the child has his parents' permission to have the tobacco product it is still against the law in the state of Iowa, for instance. If a retailer repeatedly violates this law his cigarette sales permit may be suspended.
If you have purchased cigarettes for a minor or given cigarettes to a minor you can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. You will be fined and can go to jail if convicted of this charge.
According to Global Advisory Smokefree Policy, or GASP, outlawing tobacco use by those under the age of 18 reinforces tobacco marketing to market cigarettes as an initiation into adulthood that is pleasurable and sometimes equated with sex, rebellion and fun. In some states the person who sells or gives the tobacco to the minor is punished but the recipient is not. According to GASP, controlling the merchants is easier than controlling the minors who are purchasing cigarettes. It points out that experiments to stop alcohol use by minors and the provision of alcohol to minors by adults, as well as drug use by minors and adults, reveals that prohibition of sale or purchase of these items isn’t very effective in eliminating usage.
Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She completed both the undergraduate and graduate courses offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. Pearce has been writing professionally for over 30 years.