OKEECHOBEE — It’s official! No one under the age of 21 can legally buy tobacco in any form after President Trump signed a new spending package that included an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act on Dec.20. Immediately following this, the FDA officially changed the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.
When President Trump signed the legislation, the FDA was instructed to update its regulations within 180 days and then to begin implementing those changes within the following 90 days; however, the FDA immediately posted the change in age on its website. “On December 20, 2019, the president signed legislation to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and raise the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. 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.”
Reactions are mixed regarding this change, with some expressing outrage that an adult, under the age of 21, is considered old enough to serve his or her country in the military but is not legally permitted to choose whether to smoke. Others believe it was a good move on the part of the government, because tobacco is harmful to the health of those who use it and, in some cases, to those who are around it. The discussion on Facebook was both passionate and volatile.
Lisa Patton said, “I just wonder why the ones that were old enough to smoke when it became law weren’t grandfathered in. I know back in ’86 when the drinking age changed to 21, the ones who were already of age at the time it changed were grandfathered in and could still purchase alcohol.”
Marie Root wondered how it would affect military personnel. “I know on base, they sometimes have different rules,” she said.
Rebecca Bicking said, “In my opinion, if you can give an 18-year-old an assault rifle to go in the Army and kill people or be killed, they should be able to smoke a damn cigarette if they want. At 18, they are adults.”
Rob Wilson said the new law seemed to be focused on the purchase of tobacco and wondered if it also covered possession and use of tobacco.
Alyssa Matheny said she is a bit upset about it. She is not a regular smoker, but feels she is no longer seen as an adult. “Everyone looks forward to turning 18, so they can be an adult and can buy these things if they choose to, but now it seems like they are saying, ‘Hey, yeah. We take it back. You’re a child again. You can’t do these things.’”
Haley Kahn has been smoking for two years and is addicted to it now. “What are the people who are addicted to nicotine supposed to do? Quit cold turkey? Go back to having others buy them for us?” she asked. “If you don’t smoke, you can’t understand. I honestly feel like I need them throughout the day. We can be charged as adults if we commit a crime. We have the right to vote. We are considered legal adults at 18. You expect us to act as adults, but in what ways are we considered adults other than in the eyes of the law? You can’t take away someone’s rights after they have already been given. At least I don’t believe you should be allowed to.”
Eva Perry did not think grandfathering in anyone was a good idea. “We don’t want you to die,” she said. “We want you to live as long as a grandfather.”
Natoya Stevens thinks the new legislation is awesome. “Go see a doctor and get something to help you quit. You’ll thank the people who fought for it to be changed.”
Bettye Taylor said she hates cigarettes and hates going in places where it is allowed, but she believes raising the age was wrong. “Kids can go in the military at 18 but not smoke or drink. I think those decisions should be on the adult, not the government,” she said.
Renee Hazellief said, ”We don’t need a nanny state. If you are old enough to defend your country and even die for your country, you should be able to buy cigarettes and alcohol.”
Russell Rowland said, “It’s another useless law made by useless politicians and will not accomplish anything but force anyone under 21 to buy cigarettes illegally. It’s a feel-good law for idiots.”
Andrew Bihh said, “I can go die for my country but God forbid I want to go light up a cigarette after a stressful day.”
David Gill does not think the law will serve any purpose. “People, especially immature ones, will do whatever they want. As far as military is concerned, I think they should change that age to 21, too. I think every 21-year-old male should be required to enter the military. Maybe then we wouldn’t have a bunch of idiots running around eating Tide pods and numerous other stupid acts of self-destruction.”
Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel E. Stephen said until Florida legislators make a bill, with enforcement guidelines and pass it, his department will not be actively enforcing the new guideline. At this time, they do not even know if it is a misdemeanor or a felony. “As I understand it, it is not a law yet. It is a guideline to a spending bill. We are waiting for our legislators to take the recommendation from the president and see what shakes out from their discussions. Right now, it’s clear as mud,” he said.
The FDA has also proposed new required health warnings with color images for cigarette packages and advertisements to promote greater public understanding of negative health consequences of smoking. This change will be the most significant change to cigarette packaging in 35 years.
“Given that tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., there’s a lot at stake to ensure the public understands these risks. We remain committed to educating the public, especially America’s youth, about the dangers associated with using cigarettes and other tobacco products,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D. Approximately 34 million adults in the United States and close to 1.4 million teens are smokers despite the fact that smoking kills about 480,000 people in the U.S. each year.