There has been a lot of confusion raised in recent
days about the changes made to the federal law that raised the legal age to
purchase tobacco/e-cigarette products from 18 to 21. If you’re confused, you’re
There have been questions regarding the new T-21 law
passed by the federal government over the changes to the law that apply to
tobacco/e-cigarettes. The federal law addressed only the age of those that
retailers could sell their products to – 21 years of age.
However, at this time, there is no change to the age that
someone can use or possess tobacco-related products – 18 years of age. In
essence, under the new federal law, tobacco can’t be purchased by a 20-year
old, but it is not illegal to use or possess those products.
Where the situation gets hazy is how the law is going
to be applied. Federal law typically supersedes state and local laws unless the
local laws are more restrictive, which the Wright County tobacco ordinance is.
For the purpose of explanation, here is a link to county
In Section 110.054 of the county’s tobacco ordinance,
it specifically states that “it shall be a violation of this chapter for any
person to purchase or otherwise obtain such items on behalf of a person under
the age of 21.” The original language used the term “minor” (someone under age
18), but was changed to “person under the age of 21” when the ordinance was
amended in September.
However, without raising the age to possess nicotine
products, the Wright County Sheriff’s Department is enforcing the law as it is
written. Sheriff Sean Deringer, who pointed out that the basis of the county’s
ordinance is dealing more with retailers selling tobacco products than those
who possess it, sent a memo to deputies reminding them that the law in
Minnesota is that the age to legally possess tobacco/e-cigarettes remains 18.
The memo states: “As of January 1st,
Federal Policy along with a Wright County Ordinance prohibited the sales of
tobacco products for individuals under the age of 21. The question came up
about possession or use of tobacco products with people ages 18-20. The
new policy/ordinance bans the purchasing of tobacco products by people under
the age of 21, but there are NO restrictions from individuals using or
possessing tobacco products between the ages of 18-20.”
So which one is right?
“Both,” said Assistant Wright County Attorney Greg
Kryzer. “Under our ordinance and state law, it is illegal for someone age 25 to
buy tobacco for someone who is 19 or 20, but it isn’t illegal for that 19-year
old to be in possession of that tobacco. It’s not how most laws are written, but,
in this case, it is.”
Recent news out of Washington D.C. is that Congress
will likely tighten up the law to include increasing the age to possess from 18
to 21 to match the age needed to purchase, but, for now, there is a loophole in
the law that makes it illegal to buy, but not possess.
Still confused? You’re still not alone.