The March Continues Toward Tobacco-Buying Age of 21

NATO summarizes new state laws regarding legal age to purchase

LAKEVILLE, Minn. This year, 10 state legislatures have passed, and their respective governors have signed into law, bills that raise the legal age to purchase tobacco and nicotine vapor products. In partnership with the We Card organization, NATO is providing the following summary of these 10 new laws on the legal age to purchase tobacco.

StateLegal AgeEffective Date

U.S. Military ID Exception

Other ExceptionState-Sign Required
Arkansas21Sept. 1, 2019YesYes (If 19 by Dec. 31, 2019)Yes
Connecticut21Oct. 1, 2019No  
Delaware21July 16, 2019NoNoYes
Illinois21July 1, 2019NoNoYes (2)
Maryland21Oct. 1, 2019Yes (18 or older)NoYes
Nebraska19Jan. 1, 2020NoNoTBD
Texas21Sept, 1, 2019Yes (18 or older)Yes (If born on or before Aug. 31, 2001)Yes
Vermont21Sept. 1, 2019NoNoTBD
Virginia21July 1, 2019Yes (18 or older)NoYes
Washington21Jan. 1, 2020NoNoTBD

NATO takes a proactive approach to legislation at all levels of government. We monitor and track local, state and federal legislation. We encourage engagement with elected officials before legislation is introduced in order to educate officials about responsible retailing practices and how our retailers contribute to local economies. When legislation is introduced or under consideration, NATO provides a near seamless ability for our members and coalition partners to contact officials to express concerns. In addition, NATO helps retailers comply with new laws regarding legal age of purchase.

NATO’s agenda and issue positions are ultimately determined by our retail members across the country and our internal committee process. NATO continues to oppose these bills at all levels of government. To put it simply, we believe that adults who can decide to join the military, vote, marry, take out student debt, purchase firearms or exercise other freedoms should also have the right to decide whether or not to consume legal adult tobacco or nicotine vapor products. Fundamentally, that is what being an adult is all about.

Regardless of what position anyone takes regarding legislation under consideration, NATO also prioritizes compliance with applicable laws once they are enacted. The age-of-purchase legislation introduced and/or enacted across the country is usually similar, but there are important distinctions that vary from state to state. For example, while Maryland, Texas and Virginia make exceptions for active military members over age 18, other states do not.

Retailers who do business in multiple jurisdictions must understand and comply with existing laws in each of them. In order to encourage compliance, we are actively encouraging our members and others to visit the special “21 Year Minimum-Age Resources” page on the We Card website. We Card provides important information that may help improve compliance with varying state laws.

And, as I’ve written about here previously, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) have introduced bipartisan legislation to change the law at the federal level. None of these higher legal-age proposals will affect minors (who are often cited as the reason for the legislation), rather, the legislation will only affect adults who are 18, 19 or 20 years old, who should be free to make adult decisions.

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