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U.S. Government Raises Minimum Tobacco and Vaping Age to 21

What the new law means for retailers required to verify age

Read Time:  3 Min

Note: IDScan.net does not offer interpretation of the law, nor do we provide legal advice. We encourage you to review laws that apply to your jurisdiction and to consult an attorney regarding applicable laws and actions to take.

In December 2019, the United States raised the federal minimum age required to buy and sell tobacco and vaping products to 21. The previous minimum federal age was 18, which applied to most states. A number of states had previously raised the age to 21, which superseded the federal requirement. 

As a result of the new requirements, any previous local, state, and federal penalties for selling tobacco and vaping products to minors under 18 will now likely apply for selling to individuals under the age of 21. Age verification requirements for retailers, as well as any obligation to catch fake IDs, will also apply to those under 21. 

How it Happened

The U.S. Congress approved the Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2020 on December 20, 2019. The bill, which is now law, included a section that bans the sale of tobacco and vape products to those under the age of 21. This new age restriction applies to all 50 states and territories. 

Prior to the new federal ban, 19 states and the District of Columbia raised their minimum tobacco and vaping age to 21. The states who had previously raised the age were Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Under these state laws, retailers were already prohibited to sell to under-age indviduals and responsible for verifying age.

But When Does it Go Into Effect?

It is not clear when the new ban is to take effect. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a Tweet on December 21, 2019 that it “intends to publish a final rule updating its current regulations…within 180 days.” However, the FDA also has a message on its website that, “It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product – including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes – to anyone under 21.” It is unclear whether retailers must stop selling to 18-20 year-olds as of December 20, or if they are to continue waiting for further direction.

Confusion & Compliance

In Holts Summit, Missouri, Joshua Lee manages a smoke shop, Up in Smoke. He told KRCG that the 18-20 age group makes up a large part of his customer base. And while he is bracing for the impact on business, he “Wants a clear cut answer so that the store can be in compliance.” In many instances, local and state officials will be responsible for enforcing the new federal law. These law enforcement agencies remain unsure whether to enforce the previous age of 18 or the new federally mandated age. The Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control stated on Facebook that they will “Will continue to enforce the 18 year age restriction set by state law” until it receives further guidance from federal officials.

Why Age Verification Matters

Regardless of when the new age restriction fully goes into effect, it is critical for any retailer that sells tobacco or vaping products to be prepared to verify age. It is worth noting that the law prohibits the sale of these products, not the possession or use of them. Therefore, the burden is the retailers to verify age. For retailers caught selling tobacco and vaping products to underage individuals, penalties can include fines, suspension or loss of license, and other civil and criminal penalties. 

IDScan.net’s age verification solution can help retailers verify age for every customer and catch fake IDs. This ensures compliance and decreases the risk of selling to minors. In fact, according to laws.IDScan.net, scanning IDs to verify age is an affirmative defense in some states. Contact a member of our team to learn more: 888.430.8936.