Friday, April 12, 2024

New nationwide tobacco purchasing laws cause confusion for Rutherford County businesses


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The sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 is now prohibited nationwide, after President Donald Trump signed the new law into effect December 20 as part of a sweeping $1.4 trillion spending bill that included items like parental leave for federal employees and authorization for the Space Force branch of the U.S. military.

The new minimum age law makes it “illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product — including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21,” according to the Food and Drug Administration’s updated note.“(The) FDA will provide additional details on this issue as they become available.”

Read the entire bill here. The section regarding the sales of tobacco start at Sec. 603.

This comes after a similar bill was proposed to the Tennessee State Legislature to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 earlier this year.

There has been a considerable amount of confusion throughout Tennessee, however, regarding when these laws will go into effect. According to the bill, it isnow illegal to sell tobacco products to adults aged 18 to 21. The confusion exists because, as with most new FDA legislation, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has a 180 day wait period before updating the regulations, allowing for the agency to make any needed changes to the bill. After those six months, the change would take official effect within 90 days.

However, because the age change was not new legislation, but rather a simple revision to the age within the already existing law, the new law can arguably take effect immediately.

This explanation was not made clear to anyone, it seems—least of all those who sell the tobacco at the center of this issue.

Christian Powers, assistant manager at the popular Vapesboro Vape Shop in Murfreesboro, stands as one of many store representatives who was blindsided by the change.

Photo courtesy of Christian Powers

“We had no idea! We were given no prior knowledge,” he said. “We were under the assumption that we would have until Tennessee drafted their bill for it to be transitioned over, but then it was kind of like ‘No, it’s happening today. And if you’re not doing it then we are going to fine you.’”

The store never even received notice from the FDA, Powers said. Everything he learned was from his own searching.

“There was no notice, we never received any written notice or verbal notice, or even any update through (the FDA’s) website until yesterday…We actually called the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department just to see if they were enforcing it and how they were enforcing it. And to their knowledge they are going to enforce it. So we just went ahead and transferred over (to the new law).”

Even customers were confused, Powers said, leaving him to explain what he knew about the convoluted situation.

“People have been very blindsided by it. Most people had no idea—we had no idea!… It was a very sudden thing that caught all of us off guard, and none of the stores in our area knew either. We actually called them and told them about it after talking to the Sheriff’s department. So we were just as blindsided as our customers were.”

In an attempt to clear the confusion—but probably just adding to it—the Tennessee Department of Agriculture released a statement regarding the issue, stating that they are “awaiting guidance from the FDA on when and how federal enforcement of the law change will be implemented.”

“As of the date of this announcement and pending any change to state law, sales of restricted products to persons under 21 years of age may be subject to federal authorities’ enforcement, but TDA will not take action against sales unless the recipient is under 18 years of age,” the TDA continued.

The bottom line: If you’re between 18 to 21 years old, it’s illegal for you to purchase tobacco products anywhere. Will the store owners know that? That could be an entirely different answer.

To contact Editor-in-Chief Angele Latham, email

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