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Change In Smoking Age Law Catches Some Retailers Off Guard

The door of Indy E-Cigs, a smoke and vape shop.

Indy E-Cigs, a smoke and vape shop. (Seth Tackett, WFIU/WTIU News)

Last month, President Donald Trump signed a budget bill into law that included an increase in the minimum age to purchase tobacco and e-liquids from 18 to 21.

But there was no grace period to implement the change, and that caught many Hoosier retailers off guard.

The owner of Indy E-Cigs, which has 10 locations in central Indiana, says all his shops are compliant, but he wonders how effective this law will be.

Shadi Khoury’s Indianapolis warehouse is chock full of e-liquids that are distributed to his Indy e-liquid shops in Indianapolis and Bloomington.

"I do enjoy helping people quit smoking but what I don’t enjoy is the bureaucracy and the constant struggle to pivot in this industry," Khoury says.

His business had to make a sudden change during the holidays, when a federal law raising the age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21 took effect.

"My biggest issue is when we find out about our business and we find out about regulations about our business, on platforms like Twitter, it’s kind of concerning," he says.

But that’s exactly what happened on Dec. 20, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the law would go into effect immediately after Trump signed it.

That sent convenience store and shop owners like Khoury scrambling to get in compliance.

Typically they would have a couple months until the law became effective.

"It caused confusion with the retailers, with the clerks who had to implement this change and most of all the customer," says executive director of the Food and Fuel Association of Indiana, Scot Imus.

He says those changes include updating point of sale software systems that scan IDs and changing signage.

Imus says the federal government could have taken more time to notify retailers.

"There is a roster of who has tobacco certificates, so a very quick letter to them saying as of this day, the age to purchase is 21," he says.

Khoury says time will tell as to whether the age limit increase will curb youth smoking, but he says the government could have gone further to regulate tobacco.

"Allowing it to only be sold in arenas or avenues where age restriction just to be able to walk into the location is enforced," he says, is what he wants.

READ MORE: House Committee Easily Passes Bill To Raise Smoking And Vaping Age To 21

Khoury says he already requires his customers who purchase e-liquids on his website to take a picture of themselves holding up their own picture ID, to minimize the chance someone uses a fake ID.

He thinks the government should make that a requirement.

"I believe in fair, sensible regulation, I think when you have fair and sensible regulation, you prevent bad apples from playing," he says.

State lawmakers are also considering a bill to raise the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. House speaker Brian Bosma says even though the federal law is in effect passing a similar measure at the state level would help bring more awareness to it.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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