Age limit now 21 across US for cigarettes, tobacco products


BUFFALO N.Y. (WIVB) – If you want to buy tobacco products in the U.S. you now have to be 21 years-old or older.

The new law enacted last week by Congress also applies to electronic cigarettes and vaping products that heat a liquid containing nicotine.

“Anytime that you know people under the age of 21 are smoking any tobacco product you gotta wanna know if they’re aware of the health hazards that come with that also,” Derek Betts who works at Cigar Buffalo said.

He said their customers, at the Cigar Buffalo on main street, are aware of the health concerns that come from smoking.

“Most people that come in here are people that have been smoking cigars for 10, 15 years, or know people that have been smoking them,” Betts said.

The provision raising the legal limit from 18 to 21 nationwide was in a massive spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the president on Dec. 20. About one-third of states already had their own laws restricting tobacco sales to people 21 and older.

“This is a major step in protecting the next generation of children from becoming addicted to tobacco products,” new FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn tweeted last week.

Usually, new legislation doesn’t take effect right away. The change simply increased the age limit in existing law, so it was able to go into effect immediately, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

The agency has regulated tobacco products since 2009. It enforces the law partly through spot checks. Stores can be fined or barred from selling tobacco for repeat violations.

The minimum age was increased to 21 in New York State in November. Since then Betts said sales have decreased slightly but overall have been steady.

Andrew Osborne owns Vapor Trail Electronics on South Park Avenue. He says he’s been losing business since New York passed a law earlier this month that requires vapers to pay a 20 percent sales tax on vaping products.

“The month of December will be the lowest sales for a month in the history of my company and yet it will also be the month that I send the most amount of tax dollars to Albany,” Osborne said. “So we should be questioning why the governing in Albany is closing small businesses and taking as much as they can while we pack up our shops.”

He said his customers on average end up paying $5 to $10 more on products.

“Tobacco 21 doesn’t have much of an effect my business because my average customer is over 40,” Osborne said. “This tax really does have a serious effect on the business and it’s going to lead to a future where people are getting their products from less reputable places, the black market if you will.”

Anti-smoking advocates said the higher age limit should make it more difficult for young people to get tobacco, particularly high school students who had friends or classmates over 18 buy for them.

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