New Tobacco Age 21 Law in Effect

Retailers must immediately comply with change in federal minimum buying age
Photograph: Shutterstock

LAKEVILLE, Minn. — In late December, the federal minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products was raised to 21. As this change was a late insertion into the bill that funded the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, there was some initial confusion as to when the law took effect. That confusion was put to rest by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it posted the following notice on its website:

On Dec. 20, 2019, the president signed legislation to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and raise the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product—including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes—to anyone under 21. The FDA will provide additional details on this issue as they become available.

The sale of tobacco products to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds is now a violation of federal law, and all retailers in every state must immediately cease selling any kind of tobacco product (e.g., cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, electronic cigarettes, nicotine vapor products, hookah tobacco, etc.) to anyone under the age of 21. Retailers are advised to comply with the new law now while the FDA determines how and when the agency will begin retail compliance inspections.

Retailers should also be aware that although the new law does not require states to have their own age 21 law, it strongly encourages states to take actions “to ensure that retailers do not sell tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21.” We can expect that all states that have not yet adopted age 21 in their state law will do so soon. In any case, the federal law is 21 years old, and states will be acting to ensure retailers comply.

The We Card organization is making certain retail resources are available at no cost to assist retailers in complying with the new federal law. Four kinds of free resources for retailers are available:

  • Three different age 21 signs to download, print and display in stores.
  • The We Card Age Checker Application.
  • The Age Calculator for use on mobile phones.
  • A 10-minute “Training Booster” video course that covers the new age 21 purchase law.

To obtain access to these free We Card retail resources, click here.

In addition, retailers can continue to order other products from We Card to assist in properly verifying the legal age of customers. To order other materials, go to the We Card website.

Thomas Briant is the executive director of NATO, a tobacco retailing association based in Lakeville, Minn. Reach him at

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