Following its 2019 legislative session, Maryland became the ninth state in the union to raise the legal minimum age for sales of tobacco and other nicotine products, such as vapor products and electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21 years, excluding veterans with valid military identification.
Effective October 2019, HB 1169 underscores Talbot County’s efforts to protect vulnerable youth from tobacco initiation and addiction by reducing underage access to these harmful products and increasing retailer accountability. The bill not only raises the legal age for tobacco sales, it also expands penalties to the retail owner in addition to, or instead of the cashier at point of sale. Violation penalties include but are not limited to criminal/civil citations, fines, and suspension of tobacco sales licenses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine out of ten smokers had tried smoking by the age of 18 and 98% first tried by age 26. The Truth Initiative, America’s largest nonprofit public health organization committed to making tobacco use a thing of the past, reaffirmed these findings referencing a 2015 National Academy of Medicine Report, which concluded that raising the legal age of tobacco sales could reduce the possibility of initiation for young adults between the ages of 19 and 21 by as much as 15 percent.
Following the announcement of the legislation, Logan Harris, Talbot County Health Department (TCHD) Health Educator, conducted educational visits to Tobacco Vendors across Talbot County to provide education on the passage of the bill and its implementation in October 2019. Although the level of knowledge varied amongst tobacco retailers, the majority were receptive. Revised “We card” posters and materials provided by the State are prominently displayed by retailers to reflect the new age requirements for carding and sales.
All Tobacco Enforcement efforts in Talbot County are Funded by the Maryland Department of Health, Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control. The Center has spearheaded the transition and has worked closely with jurisdictions collectively and individually to ensure successful implementation of the new legislation at a local level. Together with its funders, statewide and local agencies, Talbot County Health Department is a strong voice in promoting awareness of the changing laws and call to action. Future activities of the TCHD related to this issue include:
– Implementing a wide-reaching campaign to educate retailers, parents, youth and the public regarding the increase in the age requirements for the sale of tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21 years.
– Enlisting agencies and stakeholders for collaborative planning.
Photo: L-R: Logan Harris, Community Health Educator with the Talbot County Health Department and Muhammad Faisal of U5 Foods, which displays new signage on its window to explain the new State legislation which raises the legal age of tobacco sales to age 21.
The Tobacco 21 initiative by the Maryland Department of Health was welcomed by the Talbot County Council, legislators and State agencies. Talbot County Council President, Corey Pack, comments, “Talbot County takes the health and safety of its citizens very seriously and always look for new opportunities to provide a safe and nurturing environment. The Talbot County Council understands how gateway substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, when introduced to a developing brain can lead to severe health problems. The Council supports the increase in the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, for each year that a young person is not inhaling tobacco products there are sufficient improvements to overall health outcomes. The County Council will work with the Talbot County Health Department and Sheriff’s Department to promote the new law, as well as assist in offering smoking cessation programs for those young people who need help with nicotine addiction.”
The Talbot County Sheriff’s Office has proactively and collaboratively addressed the new legislation with every effort to prepare for the transition, using decoys, both under 18 years of age and between 19 and 21 years of age, in approaching compliance checks. Sheriff Joe Gamble states, “All of the studies on addiction show that the earlier young people use substances (including tobacco products), the more likely they are to become addicted later in life. The Sheriff’s Office will continue our efforts to enforce the laws in an attempt to keep tobacco out of the hands of our young people.”
According to Jean Honey, Prevention Administrator with the Talbot County Health Department, “Tobacco retailers are reminded of their vital role in the protection of Talbot County’s youth and our shared commitment in keeping Talbot youth tobacco-free. If local retailers suspect anyone under the age of 27 attempting to purchase tobacco products or smokeless cigarette-like devices, they must insist on a photo identification before completing a sale.”
Honey encourages retailers to train employees on tobacco enforcement laws, including ways to:
– Identify and deny underage attempts to purchase tobacco and similar products.
– Insist that anyone under age 27 produce a government-issued photo identification as proof of age prior to purchasing a tobacco product.
– Access and use age calculation tools. A free age calculator APP can be downloaded from the FDA website at the following link https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/retail-sales-tobacco-products/selling-tobacco-products-retail-stores
Information on these requirements, helpful resources and materials are available at the Maryland Responsible Retailer Program website at https://health.maryland.gov/notobaccosalestominors/
According to Fredia Wadley, MD, Health Officer with the Talbot County Health Department, “The new law will strengthen agency efforts to curb early initiation and regular tobacco use amongst youth and young adults, increase the stewardship of local retailers, and overall have a positive impact of the health of the young residents of Talbot County.”
For any further information on the changing legislation, call Talbot County Health Department Prevention Office at 410-819-5639.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth and Tobacco Use
 Truth Initiative, Where we Stand: Raising the Tobacco Age to 21, October 23, 2017
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