Sudden launch of tobacco buying age change catches retailers off guard

Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) – As of Dec. 20, 2019, it’s now illegal to buy any tobacco products if you’re under 21 years old – cigarettes, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes – all of it.

But if you haven’t heard about this change, you’re not alone. The rollout of this new law has caught many consumers and retailers totally off guard.

Some said the law to raise the age to buy tobacco products also created a haze of confusion.

“It’s much more complicated than it appears,” said Doug Kantor, an attorney with the National Associated of Convenience Stores

Kantor said the problem is that the law took effect immediately.

“That was a shock because the law also says that the FDA has six months to write new regulations and then 90 days from the new regulation until they would be implemented,” he said.

But according to the FDA’s website, it’s in effect now.

“It is very chaotic and, again, they should have given at least 60 days to implement,” said Paul Blair with the Americans for Tax Reform.

Now retailers are in a lurch, wondering who they can legally sell to. So are consumers, especially 10 t 20-year-olds used to buying tobacco products legally.

“Where there is confusion is that the FDA has not yet communicated and officially published those rules to states,” Blair said.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA, said Congress made the decision.

“As written by Congress, it was to take effect immediately, and thus it is taking effect immediately,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, M.D., of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The department said it plans an education campaign for retailers and educators.

“And so, now, I think FDA has an important opportunity and need to really recircle and redouble their efforts,” said Erika Sward of the American Lung Association.

But Kantor and other retail trade groups said they still don’t have all the information they need.

“They did respond to us and say they will get back to us, but that’s as much as we’ve heard,” Kantor said.

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