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State Officials Move to Enforce New Federal Tobacco Legislation

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by Tyler Hale

Tobacco just took a hit in the United States. Federal law now prohibits retailers from selling tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21.

President Donald Trump recently signed into law a consolidated appropriations bill, which also amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. As part of the bill, the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes, was raised from 18 years old to 21 years old.

The Arkansas legislature previously raised the minimum age for buying tobacco in Arkansas from 18 to 21. In 2019, the 92nd General Assembly passed Act 580, which raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products. Starting Sept. 1, 2019, only those 21 years old and above could legally buy these products.

Arkansas is one of 19 states that already had increased the minimum age to purchase tobacco as of December.

However, the federal law supersedes the state law. Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his plans to immediately enforce the tobacco policy.

“The federal law recently signed by President Trump, which increases the minimum age of sale of tobacco to 21, coupled with the recent decision to ban certain flavored e-cigarettes are steps in the right direction toward curbing the vaping epidemic among our nation’s youth. Smoking and vaping, especially in our youth, are public health emergencies and must be addressed at the state and federal level. In Arkansas, I signed Act 580 during the 2019 legislative session to gradually increase the age limit to 21 in the state. The just-passed federal law supersedes the gradual T-21 provision of Arkansas law, and I have directed Tobacco Control to advise all retailers and the public that the minimum age to buy tobacco products is now 21.”

The new federal minimum age law for tobacco went into effect on Dec. 27, 2019.

Trump has also targeted e-cigarette companies, with the announcement that it will prohibit specific flavors from being manufactured. These flavors include fruit, candy, mint and dessert flavors, while menthol and tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will still be permitted.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement that youth use of e-cigarettes represents an “epidemic” that requires a “comprehensive, aggressive approach” to combat.

“By prioritizing enforcement against the products that are most widely used by children, our action today seeks to strike the right public health balance by maintaining e-cigarettes as a potential off-ramp for adults using combustible tobacco while ensuring these products don’t provide an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for our youth,” Azar says. “We will not stand idly by as this crisis among America’s youth grows and evolves, and we will continue monitoring the situation and take further actions as necessary.”

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nathaniel Smith says the move to prohibit flavored e-cigarettes is a “good step” that is aimed at reducing harmful health behaviors among children and curbing addiction.

“The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) action this week to enforce regulation on the manufacture and distribution of most flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes is a good step forward in protecting our children from the harmful effects of vaping and nicotine addiction. Together with the recently signed legislation raising the minimum age for sale of tobacco products to 21, we are now in a better position to safeguard children in Arkansas from the dangers of tobacco,” he says. “FDA has also committed to carefully monitoring trends in e-cigarette use and taking additional regulatory actions as needed. I am confident that Governor Hutchinson’s leadership and commitment to enforcing all tobacco-related laws in Arkansas will help us to reverse the alarming trend we have seen in youth vaping.”

Steve Goode, the director of Arkansas Tobacco Control, says that the state will enforce the new legislation through increased education with retailers by providing “merchant education seminars.”

“We will continue to work with the retail industry to ensure proper understanding of the new T-21 age requirement. I have tasked all of our enforcement agents with communicating the changes with permitted locations as they continue to conduct compliance checks,” Goode says.

READ MORE: U-Haul Not Hiring Smokers in Arkansas and 20 Other States

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