Locals give new smoking law mixed reviews

Jamie Hult, Staff writer
Splitrock C-Store is one of several Brandon gas stations that has signs posted notifying the public of the FDA’s new minimum age law for the sale of tobacco products. Jamie Hult/BV Journal

The new federal ban on selling tobacco products to anyone under 21 years of age has some folks confused as to how the nation is defining an “adult” and why it’s permitting certain privileges while denying others.    
Following a rash of reports in 2019 of teenagers becoming addicted to and sick from smoking e-cigarettes, President Donald Trump signed a federal bill into law Dec. 20 raising the minimum age to use tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Nineteen states had already upped the smoking age to 21. The new law raises it to 21 nationwide, but not until mid-2020, technically.
That’s one point of confusion surrounding the spending package, which also raises soldiers’ wages, gives federal workers 12 weeks of parental leave and allocates $1.4 billion for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
While the legislation, as a whole, doesn’t kick in until midyear, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement on its website following Trump’s signing that the 21-and-up tobacco law goes into effect immediately.
Raising the smoking age has many supporters and research showing it can delay or altogether prevent teens from becoming smokers, vapers or chewers. A 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine found raising the smoking age to 21 could prevent approximately 223,000 premature deaths among Americans born between 2000 and 2019.
Still others feel the new law sends a confused message as to what age an individual is considered an adult.
Stefanie Halvorson, a cashier at Splitrock C-Store in Brandon, said the under-21 crowd seems to be more accepting of the new law than older folks. Younger smokers who come in and are turned away, she said, are simply leaving without argument. Middle-aged folks, however, aren’t as likely to hold their tongues on the matter.
“The younger kids are like, ‘Aw, man, that’s already in effect?’ and they just walk out,” Halvorson said. “It’s the older people. One guy – he’s a vet – he came in and said, ‘We’ll send them over there, give them an AK47, but they can’t have a g**damn cigarette?’ And that’s what everybody says.”
“That’s what the big complaint is,” agreed Scott Moe. “If you can’t smoke a cigarette and you can’t drink, you shouldn’t be adult enough to have to go to war.” 
Splitrock C-Store received a forwarded email from Farner-Bocken, a convenience store products distributor, with the FDA’s new guidelines.
“And the FDA guidelines say ‘effective immediately,’” Halvorson said. “So, we just did it right away. The FDA is the one who controls your license.”
The Coffee Cup received a letter from the South Dakota Retailer’s Association urging them to comply with the new tobacco guidelines, and most of the other convenience stores in Brandon have signs posted on their cigarette displays, doors and cash registers reiterating the new law.
“A lot of people don’t like it,” said Kelli Klaassen, assistant manager at Casey’s in Brandon. 
The main change she’s seeing since the FDA’s announcement isn’t among the smoking or nonsmoking customers, however, but with her own staff.
“Now we’re carding them much more,” Klaassen said. “If they look 40 or younger, we have to see ID.”
Some nicotine companies are even pulling certain products that might be considered more kid-friendly. Halvorson said Splitrock C-Store can no longer stock Juul’s flavored e-cigarettes, for instance; the racks are bare of juices like coffee, peppermint and mocha, leaving only tobacco- and menthol-flavored.
Blaine’s doesn’t sell vaping products, but owner Tony Ingles estimates that about one-third of the store’s tobacco customers have traditionally been the under-21 crowd. 
Ingles echoed the confusion many have voiced about the new law.
“If they can get drafted and fight for their country, why can’t they smoke in it?” he said.
Halvorson doesn’t personally see the reason for the age change, either. She’s more likely to agree with her customers. 
“If you can go to prison as an adult and die for your country as an adult, you should be able to make adult decisions,” she said. “But it’s out of our hands. There’s nothing we can do except follow the law.”


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