Tobacco 21 raises age, confusion

Tara Hutchison/Torrington Telegram Kyle Wright at Maverik with the notice to patrons that tobacco will only be able to be purchased by ages 21 and up.

GOSHEN COUNTY – A new law has raised the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulations on tobacco products and federally the new legal age to purchase tobacco products has been increased from 18 to 21. 

The American Lung Association has advocated for the change “because it will save lives.” The website also says the National Academy of Medicine reported with the “Tobacco 21” campaign, there could be a reduction in the number of deaths of people born between 2000-2019 by 223,000. It also says overall lung cancer deaths could be reduced by 50,000.

The American Lung Association said the age was determined to prevent high school aged kids from being able to purchase for younger students. Also provided are statistics for the amount of people having had their first cigarette prior to 21 at 94 percent.

Multiple states had begun to raise the legal age during 2019, but it became federally mandated on Dec. 20 when President Donald Trump signed the law amending the FDA’s regulations on the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

A common statement around Goshen County from businesses carrying tobacco is the passing of the law is going to potentially hurt sales. 

Torrington’s Maverik Store Manager Kim Grant said, “It’s going to hurt business some because you know a lot of the college kids aren’t 21…it’s going to hurt business some, but its going to save lives.”

When it comes to the public health side of things, Grant said, “With the age changing we have a lot of young kids that are mad that they can’t buy cigarettes anymore, but maybe it’s for the good and we wouldn’t have so many deaths with the vaping. I’m for it.”

Christine Sharpless, manager of the Smoker Friendly store in Torrington, agreed tobacco sales will probably see a downturn with the new law. 

“The biggest impact obviously, you know Juul, is going to be one of them that I see. And there are actually a lot of them that, the cowboys and such, that come in and get chew and things like that,” Sharpless said. “The scary thing is though, I mean 21 is the limit for alcohol and it hasn’t stopped underage drinking. So, I don’t know that it’s going to waylay underage, you know, vape products or cigarette usage that much.”

The new law could have the potential to change management as well as policies. Sharpless said that where her store in Torrington has the upper hand is that she only hires employees who are at least 21 years of age to begin with because of alcohol sales. 

Both Grant and Sharpless said there would be added responsibility for the employees, especially when it comes to the regulars that have been coming in since they turned 18.

Kyle Wright, a cashier at Maverik, also said it was going to be a change to start having to card everyone that comes in for tobacco.

“I just think everybody’s going to be mad at it. Because you can go fight for your country but you can’t buy a pack of cigarettes,” Wright said. “I’m older so it doesn’t affect me really, but we’ll lose business. A lot of places will lose business. It’s just going to make my job harder now that I’ve got to I.D. everybody.”

With Tobacco 21, a question has been raised whether people are going to be grandfathered into the ability to purchase before reaching the legal age, but the law states that it is an all or nothing scenario. 

Currently, law enforcement officials are working on just how they will navigate the new law. The legal age to purchase tobacco in Wyoming – and in Torrington under established city code – remains 18 years old. 

That, along with the fact no date has been set for the law to go into effect, leaves officers in the middle of a gray area when it comes to enforcement, deputies with the Goshen County Sheriff’s Department said.

There is currently no timeline set as to when state or local laws will be updated to match the federal age. 

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