NACS Urges Retailers to Comply with Tobacco 21

Associations seek clarity from the FDA on enforcement efforts ahead of issuing regulations.

January 02, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—NACS joined with five other retail associations to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to wait to enforce the new tobacco-21 minimum purchase age law until the agency has issued the required implementing regulations. In a letter, the associations outline the steps retailers swiftly must take to retool operations after the FDA said the law is in effect nationwide, surprising retailers.

President Trump on December 20 signed appropriations legislation which raised the federal minimum purchase age for all tobacco products from 18 to 21. The law wasn’t expected to take effect until sometime in 2020 after the FDA issues regulations to implement it. However, the agency issued a notice on its website that the law was effective immediately, stating, “It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product—including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes—to anyone under 21.”

The letter to the FDA explains how complicated the transition will be for retailers who must retrain employees, update signage, reprogram POS systems and inform customers, many of whom could legally purchase tobacco products before the law change.

“Given all of this, we are asking that FDA make clear to the regulated community that it understands this transition will take some time,” the letter states. “FDA should announce that the new age 21 restriction on tobacco product sales will not be enforced until FDA has had a chance to write new implementing regulations and for those regulations to go into effect. That way everyone can work to ensure that this transition is handled the right way and that FDA regulations are followed.”

In addition to NACS, the letter was signed by the Food Marketing Institute, National Grocers Association, National Association of Truckstop Operators, Petroleum Marketers Association of America and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.

The FDA has indicated to NACS that the agency will issue a statement soon on the transition. 

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.

NACS has been in touch with We Card, and the national nonprofit organization is working to order and print new signage. Until those updated signs are available, 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.”