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Age limit now 21 across US for cigarettes, tobacco products

Posted at 8:29 PM, Dec 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-27 21:54:57-05

LAFAYETTE — Anyone under 21 can no longer legally buy cigarettes, cigars or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

The new law enacted last week by Congress also applies to electronic cigarettes and vaping products that heat a liquid containing nicotine.

The provision raising the legal limit from 18 to 21 nationwide was in a massive spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the president on Dec. 20. About one-third of states already had their own laws restricting tobacco sales to people 21 and older.

Dwayne Melancon has been smoking cigarettes for more than 30 years.

Melancon believes he may have not picked up the habit if the minimum age would have been 21 when he was teenager.

"At 13, I could go to the store for a family member and say, 'Hey, give me a pack of joes for my whatever.' And, it would work every time. So, I didn't have that choice," said Melancon.

Although Melancon supports the federal law, he says some people are going to find a way around it.

"I think as soon as you tell somebody not to do it, the younger they're going to want to do it," said Melancon. "That's just human nature."

Matthew Fillhart, who's been smoking since he was a teenager, disagrees because he thinks he wouldn't have gone to the trouble to get tobacco.

"It would have been way too much of a hassle. I wouldn't have picked up the addiction of smoking on the hour and a pack a day and all that if I had to hustle somebody to get me a pack."

Fillhart believes there's evidence to support lawmakers' decision.

"Personally, it feels strange to be a smoker and support it. It feels like it's part of informed policy," explained Fillhart. "If it keeps making progressive shifts over time, it might reduce overall harm."

Usually, new legislation doesn't take effect right away. The change simply increased the age limit in existing law, so it was able to go into effect immediately, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

According to the Associated Press, the agency has regulated tobacco products since 2009. It enforces the law partly through spot checks. Stores can be fined or barred from selling tobacco for repeat violations.