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Tobacco age change raises retailers' concerns

Texas was one of the states that led the way for the change in federal law that makes it illegal to sell tobacco products to people under 21. Included as part of a major spending bill passed in December 2019, the legislation did not set a date for officially raising the age to purchase tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vape cartridges, from 18 to 21. Some estimates indicated that they expected that the law would not go into effect for six to nine months. However, the FDA published a statement on the agency website affirming that "it is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product...to anyone under 21."

At the same time, the federal agency declared that it would be publishing a final rule to implement the changes within 180 days and would then publish additional information. The bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019. There were already 19 states who had changed their tobacco age limits, including Texas as well as New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In addition to the state law changes, over 530 cities, towns and counties in 31 states had already passed laws raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products.

Retailers may need to be concerned about an escalation in random inspections and checks to ensure that they are not selling tobacco to adults between the ages of 18 and 21. The legislation included over $18,000,000 in funding for these inspections.

Business associations have raised concerns about how the FDA will implement the change, especially as retailers did not receive an official rule change but only encountered the information via tweets and website changes. People concerned about federal charges over underage tobacco sales may consult with a criminal defense attorney about their options.

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