The Tobacco-21 law (known as Tobacco 21 or T21) raised the minimum purchase age of tobacco products — including e-cigarettes and vaporizers— from 18 years of age to 21 years of age.
The law was first adopted by more than 500 cities and towns, as well as Washington, D.C. and 19 states — including Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington — before it officially became law on the federal level, according to the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the rule at the federal level in December of 2019. The rule was put forth as part of a $1.4 trillion spending package signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019, which amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The law became effective immediately upon announcement, and left convenience store retailers rushing to update signage and employee training to ensure they were in compliance with the new rule. The FDA has yet to publish specific regulations when it comes to implementing Tobacco 21. But the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) has warned retailers that the FDA considers any sale of tobacco products to a person younger than 21 years old as a violation of the law.
“The new federal minimum age of sale applies to all retail establishments and persons with no exceptions,” the FDA said on its website. No one is exempt from the law, not even those serving in the military.
The FDA noted on its website that the Tobacco-21 law “applies to sales of tobacco products – including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookah tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, electronic nicotine delivery systems including e-cigarettes and e-liquids – to anyone under 21 years of age.”
The Tobacco-21 law is intended to help combat underage smoking by reducing the likelihood that a legal-aged tobacco user will share tobacco products with underaged kids — such as an 18 year old buying cigarettes and sharing with a 16 year old friend.
Today, in compliance with the law, convenience store retailers must refrain from selling tobacco products to customers under the age of 21. Retailers are expected to check IDs to ensure customers are the proper age. The We Card program offers resources to retailers to assist with implementation from signage options to training programs.
Some c-store retailers told CStore Decisions they saw a dip in tobacco sales as the rule went into effect. Those in opposition to the law have argued that those 18 and over are adults, who are of age to vote, serve in the military, pay taxes, marry and more, and should not be prevented from purchasing tobacco.