A new federal law that went into effect on December 20 raising the minimum age of sale of tobacco products to 21 is drawing praise from Montana health officials.

State officials with the Department of Health and Human Services are now saying that Montana must comply with the new federal law, since federal compliance checks will continue under the new age requirement.

Public Information Officer Jon Ebelt said he has been communicating with retailers across the state regarding the new law.

“I’ve been getting questions from retailers asking for guidance,” said Ebelt. “We’ve  certainly been meeting internally to track what’s happened at the federal level and to help retailers and businesses be in compliance with this new federal law.”

.

“Most of the questions that we’ve been getting from tobacco retailers are around when Tobacco 21 is effective in Montana, and it is effective right now. The President signed the legislation on December 20th, 2019 and retailers should come into compliance with the new law,” said Aune.

Chronic Disease Prevention Bureau Chief Stacy Campbell said the retailers are responsible for making sure tobacco products are no longer sold to those under 21.

“The onus is on the retailer,” said Campbell. “It’s up to them not to sell to someone under 21, just as it was for them not to sell to anyone under the age 18. Raising the minimum age to 21 does significantly minimize the number of 18 year-old kids buying for even younger kids. As you know, many of the kids in high school are already over 18 and if we can delay that initiation, the chance that they will begin to use tobacco will be reduced dramatically.”

Aune provided statistics that show the importance of delaying the start of smoking.

“We know that nearly 95 percent of people that smoke cigarettes started before they turned 21, so by delaying that we’re drastically reducing the number of people who are starting to use tobacco products before they turn 21,” she said.

Campbell added the fact that many states had already increased the minimum age to 21 before the new law took effect.

“19 states had already passed ‘Tobacco 21’ prior to the federal legislation and so many states had already moved in this direction,” she said. “I would guess that anything that could curb this big uptick in youth tobacco use, or any law or policy that can be put into place is going to be used to do just that. There have been some studies that have looked at the increase of age of sale from 18 to 21 that it could potentially reduce tobacco use initiation by 25 percent, leading to a 12 percent reduction in smoking overall. Fewer people overall are using tobacco, which means that fewer people are getting sick from using tobacco, and fewer people will be dying in the long run.”

Aune said there are dramatic statistics regarding tobacco use and early death.

“1,600 deaths occur each year in Montana related to tobacco use, and the percent of smoking related deaths that would be alleviated due to ‘Tobacco 21’ is 10 percent, meaning 160 fewer deaths might occur each year due to the age being raised from 18 to 21,” she said.

Aune said there are several programs already in place to help Montanans quit smoking.

“For anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 who are being impacted by this change in legislation should definitely turn to some great quit resources in the state,” she said. “We have the Montana Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT NOW. We offer five free coaching sessions, eight weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy, and we also have special programs just for youth, so that for anyone under the age of 18 we have ‘My Life, My Quit’, which is also a completely free service utilizing text and chat so that they can text ‘Start My Quit’ to 1-855-891-9989 for help specifically with vaping products and e-cigarettes but other tobacco products, as well.”

The FDA defines tobacco product as “any product made or derived from tobacco that is intended for human consumption, including any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product,” and includes hookah, e-cigarettes (vapes), dissolvables, smokeless tobacco, cigarettes, all cigars, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, and future tobacco products that meet the statutory definition of a tobacco product.