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New Tobacco Law Prompts Questions

Strategies For Enforcement, Implementation Unclear

A raise in the minimum age for smokers from 18 to 21 was one of several provisions attached to a broader $1.4 trillion spending agreement signed into law by President Trump Dec. 20.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website states that is now illegal for retailers to sell tobacco to people under 21. The move comes on the heels of new emergency rules that prohibit retailers in Montana from selling flavored vaping products.

Roosevelt County Attorney Austin Knudsen said he isn’t sure what enforcement efforts will look like moving forward.

“I’m not authorized to enforce federal law,” said Knudsen.

He said he will have to wait and see what Montana lawmakers do to shape implementation of the new federal policy.

“It depends on what the Montana Legislature does,” said Knudsen.

He said he doesn’t expect the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to begin any investigations locally into possession or consumption of tobacco products, but he said there aren’t currently any federal policies or guidelines available to assist state government with enforcement.

“We wait and see if it becomes an issue,” said Knudsen.

The age limit change comes on the heels of new emergency rules that prohibit retailers in Montana from selling flavored vaping products.

The Center for Disease Control has not conclusively identified a cause or causes of the outbreak of pulmonary lung injury and has only just found the first potential chemical of concern. Vitamin E acetate was detected as an association in a sample of 29 E-cigarette, or Vaping, Product Use-Associated Lung Injury case-associated specimens. There are some EVALI cases, including in Montana, identified as nicotine-only and it is still not known what is causing EVALI in nicotine- only patients.

As the CDC continues additional studies and testing, public health authorities are continuing the recommendation that consumers consider refraining from using all e-cigarette products.

Regarding both the new minimum age and restrictions on vaping products, Knudsen said, “I’m not wild about making criminals out of local business owners who have been in compliance with regulations until now.”

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is responsible for much of the enforcement around tobacco sales. A department spokesperson said Dec. 27 that leaders will be meeting internally next week to start working on an implementation plan for the new age limit.

Montana state law currently stipulates that a minor convicted of possession or consumption of a tobacco product, alternative nicotine product, or vapor product can be fined $50 for a first offense, no less than $75 or more than $100 for a second offense, and no less than $100 or more than $250 for a third or subsequent offense. Community service penalties may also be assessed.

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