The new minimum age to purchase tobacco and tobacco alternative products in Pennsylvania is now 21-years-old, as a bill passed in Nov. 2019 went into effect at the stroke of midnight.
One part of the bill that will not go into effect is an exemption for members of the active or reserve military, or veterans who received an honorable discharge, and who are at least 18-years-old and can provide valid identification. That exemption now conflicts with a federal law passed less than a month after Pennsylvania signed its increase into law.
As part of the discussions regarding a spending bill that contained an increase to the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco, it was determined that such exemptions passed by states would not supersede the federal law.
The issue will most likely not come up until the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) begins enforcing the 21-year-old minimum, which is expected to begin by the end of 2020. In January, FDA stated that while the law went into effect upon its signing, it is not yet enforcing the 21-years-old standard through its compliance checks program.
It is halfwheel’s understanding that while the law might have changed, FDA likely lacks the authority to enforce the 21-years-old minimum age standard until several procedural steps are finished. As news of the age change came to light, the Premium Cigar Association (PCA), National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) began advising their retail members to comply with the increase to 21 as a precautionary measure.
The state might also have a financial incentive to amend its law and remove the exemption, as the federal government has allocated funds for states to put towards tobacco reduction initiatives, specifically targeting those under 21-years-old from using tobacco. Whether maintaining such an exemption either just in text or in actual practice would jeopardize access to those grants is unclear.
A spokesperson for Sen. Mario Scavello, the sponsor of the bill, told halfwheel that there are currently no plans to amend the law, but that it will be looked into.
In addition to the increase to the minimum age to purchase tobacco, the bill makes it a punishable offense for any individual to smoke on the grounds of a school within the state.