Tobacco 21

Last Updated: January 10, 2020

The Issue

At the end of 2019, Congress passed an appropriations bill that included language raising the federal minimum age to purchase all tobacco products from 18 to 21. President Donald Trump signed the legislation into law on December 20, 2019. The new minimum age, referred to as tobacco 21, wasn't expected to take effect until 2020, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted a two-sentence notice on its website saying the law was effective immediately.

Retail Impact

The law gives FDA 180 days to finalize regulations implementing tobacco 21 and requires that it take effect no later than 90 days after regulations are finalized. While the law contemplates a regulation to provide retailers with clear direction on the new rules (including a requirement to verify the age of any purchaser under the age of 30), the law does not require a delay of the age 21 requirement. However, Congress’ intent certainly appears to be that there would be no enforcement of the law until regulations were both finalized and put into effect. FDA posted a notice on the website of its Center for Tobacco Products stating that it views the age 21 purchase age requirement as effective immediately. The notice states:

“On December 20, 2019, the President signed legislation to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and raise the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product – including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes – to anyone under 21. FDA will provide additional details on this issue as soon as they become available.”

NACS Position

Given that the FDA has said that it is illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product to someone under 21, NACS urges all retailers to take the steps necessary to come into compliance. While there are unanswered questions about when the FDA plans to enforce this requirement and whether the agency can legally enforce it before updating its regulations, retailers should be aware that the FDA views any sale to a person younger than 21 as a violation of the new law.

We Card is making resources available to retailers on its website. Available are three download, print and display in-store signage options, links to We Card’s smartphone app (Age Checker) and a free 10-minute training booster course to help retail employees adjust to the T-21 law. In addition, the We Card NOW website provides a digital We Card eCalendar and an age calculation tool.