Legal age for drinking and smoking
When talking of the legal age for drinking in America, one needs to recognize the difference between purchase and consumption of alcohol.
You cannot purchase alcohol in any of the 50 states of the US if you're under 21 years of age. Similarly, alcohol will not be served to someone under 21 in a public place, like a bar or restaurant. The server in a bar can rightfully ask for a photo ID to confirm your age before serving you. Some states do not allow a person under 21 to be even admitted to, or present in a bar or night club.
In general, wine and beer is available at all grocery stores while anything with greater alcohol content can only be bought at a liquor store. Once again, whether you buy from the grocery store or liquor store, the clerk can, and probably will ask for proof of age.
The rules for consumption of alcohol, on the other hand, vary state-by-state. Some states ban under-21 consumption outright. Others are silent on underage consumption. And yet others allow consumption under 21 but with restrictions e.g. an under-21 can have liquor in his private home, or with family only.
When it comes to smoking, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase cigarettes or tobacco products in America. A retailer can ask you for your photo ID or proof of age, and can refuse to sell tobacco if he is not satisfied.
Depending on state law, it may or may not be illegal for someone under 18 to consume tobacco products.
Bottomline: just remember 21 for drinking and 18 for smoking.
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