In August, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Nebraska became the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd states to pass Tobacco 21. All bills bring the states’ minimum legal sales age (MLSA) into alignment with the federal law, which helps to reduce consumer and retailer confusion and allows for both FDA and state-level enforcement. Beyond this, each state’s legislation has its own benefits and drawbacks.
- Nebraska’s bill, in addition to increasing the MLSA, raises the age to enter a tobacco specialty store from 19 to 21 and codifies how and who can participate as cooperating individuals in tobacco compliance checks. However, Nebraska’s Tobacco 21 legislation criminalizes underage use and purchase of tobacco products as a Class V misdemeanor.* Purchase, use, and/or possession (PUP) provisions are generally ineffective in reducing youth rates of smoking and vaping and are notorious for being inequitably enforced with youth of color being disproportionately affected. The bill also prevents those under age 21 from working in tobacco specialty stores, though this part of the bill does not go into effect until January 2022.
- Georgia’s bill, SB 375, includes a ban on smoking and vaping on school property and enacts a new excise tax on e-cigarettes. The bill does, however, also include PUP penalties.
- New Hampshire’s MLSA law, which was previously 19 years of age, was also changed to reflect the new national MLSA of 21. This bill also includes ambiguous PUP language, stating underage youth “may be guilty of a violation“, resulting in a fine, community service, and/or an education program. The Dover Youth 2 Youth group played a large role in championing New Hampshire’s bill, highlighting the impact youth engagement and perseverance can have on legislative victories.
Despite these Tobacco 21 bills having some significant drawbacks, states are encouraged to pass or strengthen their own age of sale laws. In addition to aligning with the federal law, passing Tobacco 21 at the state level allows for amplification of enforcement efforts, implementation of licensing, heightening of tobacco control measures, and a chance to reassess and ensure tobacco control policies are equitable for all constituents. Learn more about the Tobacco 21 movement and best practices for implementation and enforcement here and find a Tobacco 21 Model Ordinance here.
*Correction: In our newsletter sent out on August 28th, we mistakenly noted that Nebraska’s Tobacco 21 bill criminalized youth possession as well. However, only use of tobacco products by person under the age of 21 and purchase (obtaining tobacco products from a licensee “by representing that he or she is of the age of twenty-one”) are Class V misdemeanors. Furthermore, the law states that “Any person charged with a violation of this section may be free from prosecution if he or she furnishes evidence for the conviction of the person or persons selling or giving him or her the cigarettes, cigars, electronic nicotine delivery systems, alternative nicotine products, or tobacco.” We would also like to clarify that underage youth participating in undercover decoy buys is also not a new practice is Nebraska; however, this law updates and codified who can participate in those ongoing tobacco compliance checks.