What You Need to Know about the Federal Tobacco Law

Management, Operations, Training

The legal age to buy tobacco was changed to 21 nationwide over a year ago. With over 375,000 tobacco retailers in the nation, this change has had a wide range of consequences that some convenience store employees are still trying to figure out. Get the facts below.

What the Federal Tobacco Law Says

According the to the FDA, the federal “Tobacco 21” law makes it “illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product—including cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes—to anyone under 21. The new federal minimum age of sale applies to all retail establishments and persons with no exceptions.” The law covers many different tobacco products, including  cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookah tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, e-cigarettes, and e-liquids, such as those used in vaping products.

When the Tobacco Law Went into Effect

The law went into effect as soon as it was signed into law by the President on December 20, 2019. Prior that date, 19 states and Washington D.C. had already changed the legal age to buy tobacco to 21, and many more have since passed laws to be in alignment with federal law.

Where the Law Applies

The law applies everywhere throughout the United States and is regulated by the FDA. There are no exceptions for military personnel or people who were between the ages of 18 and 20 at the time the law passed. Any retailer in the nation is subject to the FDA’s compliance check inspections. However, inspection agencies below the federal level may only consider compliance laws based on their state and local regulations.

Why the Law was Enacted

A study conducted by the National Academy of Medicine in 2015 concluded that increasing the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 would prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including reducing lung cancer deaths by 50,000. Many advocacy groups, including the American Lung Association, lobbied state and federal governments to implement the change. To further bolster their case, studies from states that had already increased the age to 21 showed that those states had a 39% reduction in smoking among young adults aged 18 to 21.

How Do You Comply with the Law?

As a tobacco retailer, you have a legal obligation to comply with the federal tobacco law. As an influential member of your community, you have an ethical responsibility to do what you can to reduce smoking in people under 21. Be proactive. Make sure your employees complete online tobacco sales training that covers the law and their responsibility to comply with it. At a minimum, employees should learn when to check ID, how to check ID, how to spot fraudulent ID, and how to refuse sales to customers who don’t have a valid ID. Follow-up your online compliance training with on-the-job training and feedback. Don’t wait for your state’s agency or the FDA to do a compliance check at your store – hire your own mystery shoppers to make sure your employees are following the law.

Online Tobacco Sales Training

Our Responsible Tobacco Sales online convenience store training program includes real-world scenarios that show employees how to implement what they learn. Employees complete quizzes throughout the training to reinforce the learning. At the end of the training, employees who pass the final exam receive a printable certificate. Click here for more information and a preview.

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