SILVER SPRING, Md. — The minimum legal age to buy tobacco products is officially 21 across the United States and federal regulators are taking steps to enforce the switch.
Four weeks after President Trump signed Tobacco 21 legislation into law, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is offering retailers some clarification on enforcement going forward.
"Effective immediately, retailers must not sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. FDA recognizes that both the agency and some retailers will need to update current practices to implement this new law as FDA will need time to do outreach and education to retailers and update the agency's programmatic work to reflect this change in law," the agency said on Jan. 15.
"During this period of transition, the FDA expects retailers to follow the law and take measures to ensure an individual purchasing a tobacco product is 21 or older, including manually checking IDs when needed. However, during this ramp-up period, FDA will continue to only use minors under the age of 18 in its compliance check program," it added.
The FDA is also providing tools for retailers to help them calculate a customer's age. According to the agency, retailers who use its This is Our Watch digital age verification calendar may update the minimum purchase age on the calendar to 21 years old. Instructions on how to update the age on the digital calendar are available on FDA's website. Retailers who would like the digital age verification calendar can order one free from FDA's Center for Tobacco Products Exchange Lab.
Additionally, retailers who use the FDA's Age Calculator app should update the age limit to 21 years through the app settings. Instructions are provided within the help feature of the app.
The agency added it will update its website and other materials, including regulations, in the near future to reflect the change in the law.
Since the law went into effect in late December, NACS has been pushing for the FDA to provide clarification around new regulations and enforcement for its convenience store members. Last week, the association joined with other retail groups to send a letter to the agency stressing the need for direction, as Convenience Store News previously reported.
While the FDA has now issued a statement around the federal Tobacco 21 law and the transition period, NACS pointed out the agency did not define the length of that period.
The association continued to advise retailers to continue taking the steps necessary to come into compliance on the higher legal age.