Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

Smoking cessation efforts had been gaining ground for decades. Tobacco use and smoking rates were dropping, year after year, as prevention and awareness campaigns worked to codify the dangers of tobacco. People weren’t just quitting smoking; people were avoiding the habit altogether—until the advent of vaping. Reversing a decade-long decline in smoking rates, e-cigarettes and vaping products have engendered an entirely new generation of would-be smokers to pick up the habit. Targeting underage users, the vaping industry experienced a boom. The issue grew with such ferocity that the U.S. Surgeon General declared a youth vaping epidemic in 2019.

Lawmakers have been scrambling to understand the products, dangers associated with them, and best ways to curb the uptick in youth smoking rates. In a rare bipartisan move, the U.S. Congress created the Congressional Caucus to End the Youth Vaping Epidemic in 2019, leading to new legislation to increase the age of sale for tobacco and vaping products. In December 2019, President Trump signed legislation through the Federal, Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that raised the minimum age of the sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21.

“Effective immediately, retailers must not sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes that both the agency and some retailers will need to update current practices to implement this new law as FDA will need time to do outreach and education to retailers and update the Agency’s programmatic work to reflect this change in law,” FDA said in a press release.

After a designated grace period of readjustment for the retailers, FDA will begin penalizing retailers who continue to sell to minors under age 18.

In late 2019, even prior to the national law, several states and municipalities strengthened their local laws to increase enforcement and the legal age for the sale of all tobacco products. With the president’s signature, many of these efforts are now supported by federal law.

FDA created instructional online education modules and a calendar to assist retailers as they undergo the transition to selling tobacco only to older customers. With more than 1 million compliance checks, FDA is taking a strong stand with the new federal regulation.

ONS advocates and the greater smoking cessation community have been instrumental in educating lawmakers and agency officials about the dangers associated with smoking. Consider advocating for your patients and your profession and join the ONS advocacy effort.