President Donald Trump gave his stamp of approval last week to raising the federal age requirement of who can legally purchase tobacco products to 21 when he signed spending bills approved by Congress this week.
With the president’s signature, the change will soon make it illegal for anyone under 21 in the United States to purchase vape products and e-cigarettes, as well as more traditional tobacco products.
The Food and Drug Administration confirmed in a Dec. 21 tweet that it will update its regulations and intends to submit a final rule within 180 days.
The FDA, however, released a statement on its website suggesting the rule could go into effect sooner.
“It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product — including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21. FDA will provide additional details on this issue as they become available,” the statement said.
Youth tobacco use became a point of discussion in Washington as the prevalence of e-cigarette use and vaping among teenagers seemed to skyrocket. Though the issue garnered more attention due to the hundreds of vaping-related illnesses across the country, raising the age to purchase tobacco won’t directly tackle that problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have traced the problems to illicit THC products adulterated with Vitamin E.
Tobacco use has long been a concern in the U.S. in both the health problems connected to combustible cigarettes and the addictive properties of nicotine, especially in young people. In 2018, 12.5% of middle school students reported they use a tobacco product, compared to 31% of high school students, a CDC survey found.
A CDC fact sheet also shows that more than 34 million adults in the U.S. — about 13.7% of the population — are cigarette smokers.
A bill to raise the legal age to buy tobacco — from 18 to 21 — was introduced earlier this year by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and was combined with another bipartisan bill on the issue to become part of the spending package.
Along with updating rules about how to enforce the new tobacco age, FDA is starting to evaluate applications for e-cigarette products it says are on the market illegally to determine if the agency will allow them to be sold or place restrictions on where they can be sold and how they can be marketed.
The Trump administration has not yet said how — or if — it will enforce a ban on all flavored nicotine vaping products that was announced by the president in September in an effort to stop more teenagers from taking up vaping.
Public health and anti-tobacco groups praised the change but still want more to be done to curb youth vaping and tobacco use overall.