The Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 15 issued a statement clarifying for retailers that as of Dec. 20, 2019, it is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.
The end of year appropriations legislation signed by President Trump on Dec. 20 amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and raised the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. As of that date, it became illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product—including cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes—to anyone under 21.
The effective date created significant industry confusion because the law wasn't expected to take effect until several months into 2020.
NATSO, along with the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and other retail groups sent several letters to FDA Director Mitch Zeller in recent weeks asking the agency to announce that it would not enforce the new Tobacco 21 rule until after implementing regulations are written and finalized and seeking clarification on the law’s implementation.
NATSO and other retailers informed FDA that retailers needed time to update signage and train employees before implementing the policy change. FDA also needs to educate consumers about the change, especially customers aged 18 to 20 who have been purchasing tobacco products and can no longer purchase these products.
In its Jan. 15 notice, FDA acknowledged that both the agency and some retailers will need to update current practices to implement this new law and that FDA will need time to do outreach and education to retailers.
During this period of transition, however, FDA said Jan. 15 that it expects retailers to follow the law and take measures to ensure an individual purchasing a tobacco product is 21 or older, including manually checking IDs when needed. FDA said that during this ramp-up period, FDA will continue to only use minors under the age of 18 in its compliance check program.
Although tobacco sales laws are generally enforced by state and local agencies, not the FDA, NATSO members should require employees to only sell tobacco products to adults 21 years of age and older. This includes all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes. It may also be advisable for retailers to generate their own signage informing customers that the FDA is requiring a minimum tobacco purchasing age of 21.
NATSO encourages all operators to continue in their efforts to successfully identify and prevent age-restricted product sales to minors.
There are a number of We Card resources available to assist retailers, including downloadable logos and ads that are available at www.wecard.org.
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