Retailers React to Federal Tobacco 21 Legislation Passing

Retailers React to Federal Tobacco 21 Legislation Passing

On Dec. 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending bill that contained a federal age increase for tobacco products. With the passing of the bill, the legal purchasing age for tobacco products increased from 18 to 21 years. There is no grace period for the bill–this federal age increase took effect immediately, taking many tobacco retailers and consumers who are 18, but under 21, by surprise.

The bill is being hyped as a “clean” tobacco 21 age increase as it doesn’t include any other anti-tobacco provisions. A federal age increase for tobacco products has been on the table for many months, inspired by the rising numbers of teens who are reportedly using e-cigarettes and vaping products. In April 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would be introducing a federal tobacco 21 bill [read more here]. Other states, including Texas and Washington, already had passed tobacco 21 bills. Other bi-partisan bills had been introduced in 2019 that supported raising the minimum purchasing age, giving momentum to the bill. In December, a tobacco 21 provision had been added to a spending bill that was ultimately passed in the final days of 2019.

While many expected it, the federal tobacco 21 bill took many retailers by surprise. While some bills include a short grace period, the federal age increase for tobacco products took effect immediately. As the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) reports, most laws of this nature requires the agency to release regulations within 180days of the laws enactment and make changes within 90 days. In the case of the federal tobacco 21 bill, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the bill’s immediate effect and that retailers had to begin complying at once. Retailers took to social media to inform their customers of the age increase while others reported having to turn away customers who were 18 years of age or older, but still under 21, due to the new bill. The law also requires retailers to I.D. all customers under the age of 30, another increase as the previous age was 27. If you are a retailer selling any type of covered tobacco product, including cigarettes, smokeless, cigars, pipe tobacco, e-cigarettes or vapor, then you are encouraged to immediately cease tobacco sales to anyone under the age of 21. Also, retailers should know the following about the recent bill and changes:

  • Legal purchasing age of tobacco products increases from 18 to 21 years
  • Retailers must check I.D. of anyone under the age of 30 who are purchasing covered tobacco products
  • Sales change takes place immediately
  • There is no military exemption

The FDA will provide additional details on the age increase as they become available. For additional information on selling tobacco products in retail stores, click here.