Shops unaware as age for tobacco sales rises to 21

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now enforcing a new federal law raising the minimum age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21, but the timing is leading to confusion among some local shop owners and customers who were unaware it was already in effect.

At Rishi’s International Beverage on 28th Street SE in Grand Rapids, the signs on Friday still showed it was illegal for anyone under 18 to buy tobacco.

“I knew it was coming and I didn’t realize it had already gone into effect, so I’m glad that you came today and enlightened me about that,” Rishi’s manager Rishi Makkar told News 8.

The story was the same at other shops in the Grand Rapids area. Most were unaware the law had gone into effect.

President Donald Trump signed the legislation to raise the minimum age on Dec. 20, but it wasn’t clear at the time when that would go into effect. A new post on the FDA’s website clarified that.

The FDA enforces tobacco sales with undercover stings that can lead to fines or orders to stop selling.

“It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product – including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes – to anyone under 21,” the FDA post reads. “FDA will provide additional details on this issue as they become available.”

Shop owners questioned why nobody told them.

“There probably should have been a little more awareness, especially for the industry people, just so we know. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of enforcement,” the Rishi’s manager said.

The change comes as a new study shows more young people turning to nicotine vaping. A 2019 University of Michigan survey found an alarming increase in just the last year among students: 1 in 4 high school seniors had vaped in the last month and 1 in 11 eighth graders.

“It gives kids a little more time to decide whether it’s something they want to engage in or not,” the Rishi’s manager said of the new law.

He said he will change signs and train staff to follow the law.

“As retailers, it’s our job to make sure we’re upholding those rules and regulations as not only community servants but also for moral and ethical reasons as well,” he said.

Of the half a dozen local shops checked by News 8, only the Wild Bill’s Tobacco shops were aware the law was in effect.

An 18-year-old vaper, who didn’t want to be identified, was surprised when Wild Bill’s turned him away on Friday.

“It’s been 18 for a really long time, and to change it out of nowhere to 21 kind of sucks for everyone who’s between that, but I feel like it was going to be done eventually,” he said. “It just sucks that I’m 18 when it happened.”