@NCCapitol

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You now have to be 21 to buy cigarettes or vaping products

Posted December 31, 2019 3:44 p.m. EST
Updated January 2, 2020 12:16 p.m. EST

— A change occurred this month to the federal law governing how old customers must be to purchase cigarettes or vaping products.

Consumers must be 21 or older to buy the products, a mandate tucked into a recent federal budget bill that Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed.

The provision regarding cigarettes and vaping products went into effect immediately – although not many people know about the new rule.

Public health advocates say the higher age limit is a logical move to keep young people from getting addicted to nicotine.

Research shows people under 21 are more susceptible to becoming addicted to that or other substances because their brains are not fully developed yet.

While teen use of cigarettes has fallen to an all-time low in recent years, vaping and consumption of vaping-related products has increased dramatically over the last couple of years.

A national survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than one in four high schoolers had used an e-cigarette within the past 30 days, up from one in 10 two years ago.

Anti-vaping groups say it could also help reduce the risk of vaping-related illnesses and even deaths.

But not many people have heard about the new age restrictions levied on cigarettes and vaping products.

In a letter sent this week to its members, the North Carolina Petroleum & Convenience Marketers said it is waiting for additional guidance from federal officials.

"On December 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. FDA will provide additional details on this issue as they become available," the group wrote.

Marianne Weant, a coordinator with the North Carolina Alliance for Health, said she suspects sales to underage minors will continue.

"We know from tobacco sales audits that about 20 percent of retailers sell to underage folks already, and so the odds of that continuing are pretty high," she said. "Especially in North Carolina (because) we’re one of only 12 or 13 states that doesn’t have a retail licensing program, and so there are no consequences to retailers who choose to sell tobacco to children under the age of 21."

According to the CDC, as of Dec. 17, 54 people across the U.S. have died from illnesses caused by vaping, and more then 2,500 have been hospitalized.

Juul is the dominant e-cigarette maker on the market, especially among youth users.

The company did not fight the minimum age increase, likely hoping to avoid more restrictive regulation in the wake of the vaping illness outbreak.

While the change is good news for anti-tobacco advocates, it's not great news for the smoke and vapor shops that have popped up all over the Triangle in recent years.

The age group in which e-cigarette use is the most prevalent is 18 to 29.

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