The debate over whether cigarettes and other tobacco products should be sold to persons under 21 has ended now that President Donald Trump has signed a new law, making it illegal for
retailers to do so.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that the federal minimum age to buy tobacco has gone up from 18 to 21 years old, but there are still many questions surrounding the law.
On Dec. 20, 2019, Trump signed the new minimum age into law as part of a sweeping spending bill. The law is now in effect, meaning it is now illegal for any store to sell any tobacco product, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes or cigars, to anyone under the age of 21.
The penalties for selling to persons between 18 and 21 has not yet been determined.
There is another underlying problem with this new law. Young tobacco users who wish to quit the habit may not be able to buy the cessation products on the market to help them. Previously, the rules for smoking cessation items like gums and patches have always mirrored the minimum smoking age. It is unclear whether that will change with the new law.
The answers are expected within the next six months. The FDA says it intends to publish a final rule updating regulations within the next 180 days. Those new rules will then take effect no more than 90 days after that announcement.
The new legislation is a result of the youth vaping epidemic revealed in recent months. According to drugabuse.gov, teen e-cigarette users are 30 percent more likely to start smoking than non e-cigarette users.
Gus Asmaro, one of the owners of Merchants Gourmet Wine Shop, a long-time family business in the city of Fenton, said he heard about the new law from a friend in the business.
“It was all confusing,” he said. “No phone calls from cigarette reps, only a letter from our distributor that came way later than Dec. 20.
“Usually the cigarette companies send out signs, but seems like there was no time for them because it took effect immediately,” Asmaro said. “So we still haven’t received anything. So, yes, we have been rejecting people who are not of the new age limit.”
Asmaro said Merchants has not been told to enforce it. “But we started right away,” he said. “No reason for us not to follow any laws. Luckily we don’t get that many people who are under 21 that buy cigarettes from us, so I don’t think it’s going to affect Merchants much.”
Genesee County tried and failed
On Monday, Dec. 2, 2019 the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down a Genesee County ban on tobacco sales and related products to people under the age of 21.
The county can’t adopt a regulation that is stricter than state law, which allows tobacco sales to anyone who is at least 18, the age of majority, according to the appeals court ruling.
In a 3-0 opinion, the court affirmed a decision by Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Judith Fullerton, who on June 19, 2017, ruled against Tobacco 21, the effort to ban sales of tobacco and related products to anyone under 21.
National retailers have better luck
CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Walmart, however, did what Genesee County could not and made their own policies on what age individuals should be to purchase tobacco products.
On April 23, 2019, Walgreens announced it would be implementing a new chain-wide policy that will require customers to be at least 21 years old in order to buy tobacco products in its stores.
In early 2019, Rite-Aid and Walmart also raised the age to 21 to buy tobacco products. CVS stores ceased selling tobacco products altogether in 2014.