Stores enforce new tobacco age restriction after FDA announces ‘immediate’ implementation

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Local vape shop owner said implementation of the new law was "botched"

TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – For the first time on Friday, many Ti-Cities convenience stores and vape shops began implementing a federal policy that limits the sale of tobacco products to customers 21 years and older.

Nineteen states, including Virginia, already had laws on the books that raised the legal age of tobacco sales to 21, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The change was new to Tennessee, where the legal age was previously 18.

The policy went into effect after President Donald Trump signed a new spending bill on Dec. 20, but some vendors said the rollout was confusing and rushed.

“I think most people expected it to go through on the first, January first,” said Micah Tucker, the manager of a Tri-Cities Roadrunner. “I came in today [Friday] and figured out that it was being implemented today. I had to let everybody know on the spot.”

“The FDA really botched the implementation of T21,” said Rocky Top Vapor Owner David Nelson. “The FDA…just said ‘hey T21 is the law of the land, it’s effective immediately.’ There’s not a whole lot of information.”

The Food and Drug Administration had 180 days to develop a strategy for implementation and after that, another 90 days for the new law to take effect.

The FDA tweeted on Dec. 21, the day after Trump signed the legislation, that it was to take effect immediately.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the department that oversees tobacco products, released a statement Friday stating, “We are awaiting guidance from FDA on when and how federal enforcement of the law change will be implemented.”

According to the statement, the department will only be enforcing state law until further notice, which designates the minimum purchasing age at 18.

Nelson said the FDA has yet to update its age verification app and parts of its website.

There’s also been some confusion about a “grandfather clause” for military members and people who are currently 18 to 20.

There is no mention of this in the law.

Vendors are anticipating a hit to their bottom line.

Nelson said about 10 to 15 percent of their customer base was 18 to 20 year- olds. Tucker said this group makes up about 70 percent of his store’s e-cigarette sales.

Nelson said he supports the regulation overall.

“As a vape shop owner, we’re in favor of sensible regulations that restrict youth access to vaping products but also keep them available for adults who want to quit smoking,” he said.

Nelson also expressed concern that teens already hooked on cigarettes may not be able to access vaping as an alternative.

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