Tobacco age law changes

As of Dec. 20, 2019, federal law has been changed to prohibit sales of tobacco products (including cigarettes, vape products, electronic cigarettes, and chew) to anyone under the age of 21. 

Previously, the federal minimum legal sale age (MLSA) was 18. According to Time USA, 20 states have complied with the changes to the law. 

As this is a federal law, individual states are still free to sell tobacco products to those under 21 years of age until individual state laws change. According to a press release by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), retailers are expected to follow the new federal age, but only minors under the age of 18 will be continued to be used during checks. This is because of possible confusion until the new law is fully enforced, as the FDA is still in the process of updating its website and other information. 

For states that are compliant with the new Tobacco 21 regulations, the American Lung Association, which has been pushing for higher MLSAs, sees it as highly impactful for the process of reducing underage smoking. In high schools, students who are of age are often intermediates for younger students to obtain tobacco products. With the MLSA being increased to 21 in 20 states, teenagers have fewer chances of obtaining tobacco products from friends. This also makes it harder for tobacco companies to market to young people. 

For Nebraska, the statewide age to purchase tobacco products was 18 until Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-1418 increased the minimum age from 18 to 19. As detailed in a memo released by Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson on Dec. 31, state law enforcement and other agencies are advised to enforce only state laws. 

According to the American Lung Association, Nebraska only provides funding to fulfill 17 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for tobacco control.

According to the CDC, “nearly nine out of 10 cigarette smokers first try cigarettes by age 18, and 98 percent first try smoking by age 26.” 

The popularity of vaping, especially flavored products, is often attributed to the recent rise in smoking: 49 percent of middle schoolers and 67 percent of high schoolers admitted to using flavored tobacco products according to CDC data from 2018. Data from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey says that at least five million middle schoolers and high schoolers reported that they used an e-cigarette within 30 days prior to the survey.

Though not a federal law, the FDA released a policy on Jan. 2, directed towards manufacturers of vape and tobacco products regarding e-cigarette flavors that “appeal to kids.” “Companies that do not cease manufacture, distribution and sale of unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco or menthol) within 30 days risk FDA enforcement actions.”