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Federal tobacco law needs state backup

The federal law raising the sales age for tobacco to 21 is welcome, but without state lawmakers following up, the law has little bite.

REUTERS/Alex Grimm

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

President Donald Trump’s move to raise the federal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21 was a welcome move, but Minnesota and other states should quickly follow suit in raising the age limit. Doing otherwise will leave enforcement lacking.

Trump put the language into the bill to fund the federal government, and it became law when Congress approved the bill. Some retailers locally and around the country say there is confusion about when the federal rule goes into effect and who will enforce the law.

There should be no confusion as to when the law goes into effect. It has been in effect for weeks.

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The Food and Drug Administration posted on its website in late December: “It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product — including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21.”

While the implementation date of the federal law is no longer in doubt, the question of who will or can enforce the law remains more of a puzzle.

Because it’s a federal law, local law enforcement generally wouldn’t be the enforcers. Some police departments have received an informational document called Federal Tobacco 21: The Law of the Land that states: “FDA will oversee enforcement of the minimum legal sales age at 21.” What exactly that enforcement will look like remains unknown.

So while the federal law is on the books, it appears to have few teeth. It seems unlikely federal agents are going to be making compliance checks at convenience stores or that federal attorneys are going to be filing charges for a store selling to someone under 21.

That’s why it’s important for the state Legislature to pass its own law raising the age for tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21. State legislation would make it clear that all local law enforcement would enforce the law.

And lawmakers should look at banning flavored tobacco products, flavors that are aimed at attracting young people to smoking and vaping.

With a federal law now in place and with nearly half of all states having passed tobacco 21 laws, state lawmakers face an easy decision in raising the legal buying age. And while looking at bans on flavored products will draw fierce opposition from tobacco and vaping companies, it’s a debate the Legislature needs to have.

Republished with permission.

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