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Oneida Retail enforcing new federal tobacco law

Kali photo/Christopher Johnson

Oneida Retail employee Jeff Ermenc checks an ID for a cigarette purchase. A new nationwide federal law increases the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes, tobacco, and e-cigarettes (and associated vaping products) from 18 to 21.

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which immediately raised the minimum age of tobacco product sales to individuals from 18 to 21 years. The act encompasses tobacco products including cigarettes, tobacco, and e-cigarettes. The change also mandates the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to update its regulations for enforcing the amendment within 180 days of its signing.

The Oneida Retail Division, which oversees the Nation’s tobacco sales in its One Stop locations, has already taken steps to ensure immediate compliance with the law change. The changing of signs around the reservation and the reprogramming of cash registers to reflect the new age were a few of the required changes. “This will impact our employees, along with gaming employees, who will now have to card people who appear to be under the age of 30,” Retail Area Manager Michele Doxtator said. “This is new to many people, so we’ll have to turn away some sales. This will also affect those gaming employees between the ages of 18 and 20 who purchase customer’s cigarettes for them. They’ll have to have an employee 21 or older do that now.”

Direct conversations with employees were also held to ensure compliance within the Retail Division. “We had discussions with them about the expectations,” Doxtator said. “This is the law, so if any of our employees are ever cited for failure to comply, it’s their ticket, not Retail’s or the Nation’s ticket.”

According to Doxtator, the smoking rate for the entire United States population between the ages of 18 and 24 is seven percent, so a decline in tobacco product sales of approximately 4 or 5 percent is anticipated. “We track our cigarette sales daily,” Doxtator said. “So we’ll know pretty quickly how this law will impact us. But we are complying with the laws because it’s our goal to keep tobacco out of the hands of youth.”

“I know that Oneida Retail agrees that youth smoking is a dangerous issue so they are happy to comply with this as they would any law,” Oneida Nation Law Office Attorney Carl Artman said. “There won’t be a whole lot of changes in what actually happens. The retailers are already carding people and are trained to make sure they’re 21. There may be some additional enforcement procedures forthcoming at the national level, but I don’t anticipate there will be a whole lot of change other than the age of the individual.”

From a law enforcement perspective, the new mandate isn’t expected to change much of anything in the way the Oneida Police Department (OPD) checks for compliance. “The only real change for us will be within the elements that would have to be met for a violation,” OPD Assistant Chief Joel Maxam said. “As far as enforcement of violations it will be business as usual. We have done compliance checks in the past and those will continue to happen in the future. We don’t tend to put out there that they’re going to happen or when, but from what we can see the One Stops are doing a great job of enforcing and adhering to the new law already.”

Any employees and individuals under the age of 21 found to be in violation of the new tobacco law will be subject to an ordinance citation.