NACS, Retail Groups Ask FDA for Clarity on T-21

Retail associations send second joint letter asking for direction on the new tobacco age.

January 13, 2020

ALEXANDRIA—A group of retail associations, organized by NACS, sent a second letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday asking the agency to provide clarity to retailers trying to make the transition to age 21 for tobacco sales. To date, the FDA has only provided a notice on its website that age 21 is effective immediately.

President Donald Trump enacted legislation last month to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. The law gives the FDA 180 days to write regulations implementing the new age and then no more than 90 days for it to take effect. The law does not require a delay of the age 21 requirement. However, it does consider a regulation to provide retailers with clear direction of the new rules, including a requirement to verify the age of any purchaser under the age of 30. For this reason, NACS believes it was Congress’ intent that the law wouldn’t be enforced until regulations were both finalized and implemented.

Retailers around the country are confused by the immediate transition to 21. Some state agencies have clarified that they will not enforce the new age until implementing regulations are finalized by FDA, while other state agencies are moving forward with enforcement. In their letter to the FDA, the retail groups note this confusion and the significant time needed to successfully make the transition in stores.

“To effectively make the transition to 21, retailers must retrain employees, update signage, reprogram point-of-sale systems, and educate customers. Retailers are making these efforts, but they each take resources and time to complete,” stated the letter.

The letter was signed by NACS, Food Marketing Institute, NATSO, National Grocers Association, Petroleum Marketers Association of America, Premium Cigar Association and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.

Until further direction is given from FDA, NACS urges all retailers to take the steps necessary to come into compliance. The FDA’s notice on its website is clear that the agency views any sale to a person under 21 as a violation of the law.

For retailers looking for new signage and training resources, We Card is making resources available.  On We Card’s website, you can download and print in-store signage options. You can also access 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.

We Card is working to provide new physical signage and age calendars. Until you receive updated signage, NACS recommends printing and posting signage in stores that indicates, “As of December 20, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided that the federal minimum age for purchasing any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, is 21 years old.”