The vaping industry has endured its fair share of scrutiny over the years, with youth vaping at the top of the list. Public health groups and politicians nationwide have been taking several initiatives to combat what they have deemed the “youth vaping epidemic” – with flavor bans and raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products at the forefront. After several years of constantly shifting age restrictions varying from city to city, state to state, the legal age to purchase tobacco products now falls under federal law.
New Legal Age to Purchase Tobacco Products Now 21
Age restrictions for the purchase of tobacco products have been slowly shifting over the years, with Hawaii being the first state to legally raise the age to 21 in 2015 and California following suit in 2016. Since then, the age restrictions have continued to increase (and vary) across the nation.
Then there’s the Tobacco 21 Campaign which was originally established in 1996 but didn’t gain much traction until the summer of 2019, when at the time only eight states had successfully raised the minimum age to 21. But with the sharp increase in youth vaping between 2017 and 2019, the Tobacco 21 initiative started gaining more traction. By the end of 2019, the campaign had reached 31 states and more than 500 cities.
Then, on December 20, 2019, President Trump signed a spending bill that included a provision to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products at the federal level. The provision took effect immediately, rather than 9 months from the signing as suggested in earlier reporting. This means that, as of December 20, 2019, it is federally illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase tobacco products.
What the New Legal Age Means for the Vaping Industry
For retailers, the constantly changing age restrictions has made keeping up with varying local and state laws to avoid selling to those under the legal purchasing age of each city and state a bit challenging. Just take a look at our age restriction map from 2015:
This map from 2016:
And this map last updated in October of 2019:
As shown in the most recently updated map, the legal age to purchase tobacco products was ranging from 18 to 21 across the nation, as well as within individual states. For online retailers, this was almost like a speed trap, as in they could be shipping two different orders to a state with varying age restrictions and if they miss that “road sign”, they’re in some trouble – not to mention the scarlet letter they receive for selling their products to underage customers.
How Does the Age Change Affect Online Retailers?
The anonymity of the Internet can present many challenges to online retailers in regulated industries, especially when it comes to products with legal age restrictions. However, technology has made great strides over the years and sophisticated software is readily available to assist online retailers with legal compliance when it comes to age-restricted products.
By now, all online vape companies should have a sophisticated age verification process in place – especially reputable companies committed to ensuring their products do not reach the hands of underage consumers. Take White Cloud, for example: our products were designed for adult smokers and we have always made selling to our intended customers a main priority. When White Cloud first took off at brick and mortar kiosks, long before vaping age restrictions were legally set in place, we displayed “We Card” signs at each kiosk and checked IDs to ensure our products were staying out of the hands of minors.
By 2013, White Cloud’s online sales started increasing significantly, presenting challenges with verifying the age of purchasers and prompting us to seek sophisticated software that could help us stick to our age verification process.
By early 2014, White Cloud had a sophisticated online age verification process set in place thanks to our partnership with LexisNexis, which holds a database of more than 78 billion public records, including government issued IDs. This database allows us to verify the age of all purchasers to ensure our products stay out of the hands of minors.
In the event legal age cannot be verified based on the records in the LexisNexis database, the order is flagged and the customer is contacted to request proof of legal age. To proceed with the order, the customer must send us a photocopy of a state-issued ID or provide a previous address legally associated with their name as proof of residence. If these criteria are not met, the order is then canceled and refunded for the full amount.
LexisNexis routinely updates its database with new or amended laws and rules at federal, state and local levels, guaranteeing continual compliance. When a White Cloud customer’s age is verified, the customer is given a LexisNexis ID to allow the customer to continue receiving orders without going through the age verification process each time.
However, each time a state or locality raises the legal age to purchase tobacco products, the age of each customer within the affected location must be verified again in order to continue receiving orders. Now that the legal age to purchase tobacco products has been raised to 21 at the federal level, we here at White Cloud can rest assured knowing that our products are only reaching the hands of adults.
More information on White Cloud’s age verification process and its effectiveness can be found on our blog here and in PDF form here.