Texome retailers and local law enforcement agencies are gearing up for a change in tobacco regulations that take hold Sept. 1.
The Texas legislature recently passed and Governor Greg Abbot signed into a law a measure that increases the legal age to purchase or use tobacco products in Texas from 18 to 21. This puts Texas in line with an increasing number of states trying to curb tobacco usage among minors.
“It is going to make it easier to keep tobacco out of schools,” Grayson County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sarah Bigham said. “It is becoming a problem nationwide for juveniles to buy tobacco products at a very young age. That is one reason the age was raised to 21.”
Retailers are the ones who will feel the blunt of the impact as a segment of the adult population will be cut off from purchasing the products. Bigham said the new law will make violations a class c misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine.
Lone Star Food President Bill Martin said it is just one more regulation his industry has to face.
“We are operating in one of the most heavily regulated environments in the retail business,” Martin said. “Our employees are under a lot of pressure to do the right thing to make legal sales. Now is it something we will survive, sure. We already have underground storage tanks. We have to consider money laundering from sale of money order. We have to keep an eye out for underage lottery sales. We have a number of chemicals we have to be mindful of. There are local health department codes if we sell food. This is one more thing. It would have been a lot easier if they just made it 21.”
He said the way the law is written includes several exemptions to the prohibition of tobacco sales.
Beginning on Sept. 1 anyone under the age of 21 will not be able to buy, use or possess tobacco items. One exemption is for military personnel. Martin said cashiers will have to check for military ID in addition to the date of birth. He said what makes it even more complicated is there is a provision for those who were 18 as of Aug. 31 this year. Anyone born on or before Aug. 31 2001 will still be allowed to purchase tobacco as before.
Martin said his company is already training employees on the new law, and the next step is to begin educating the customers.
“If you live in the state of Texas, you heard of this law,” Marin said. “You already knew this was coming. The ones it is going to affect are people who are coming in from out of state who try to purchase. Typically when there is a change like this you only have to explain it once or twice before people understand it.”
Martin said one concern for retailers in Texoma is the proximity to Oklahoma. He said it is a short drive to a state where they can purchase those products.
Sherman and Denison Police departments are looking at how the law will affect their departments, but minor in possession tobacco charges are not something that either group deals with often.
“Tobacco use doesn’t have too much impact on our call load,” Sherman Police Sgt. Brett Mullen said. “When we do run into minors in possession, we typically issue a citation or a warning. Officers have discretion to give a warning. Giving the fact it goes up to 21, it (the law) includes a much larger group of the population.”
Denison Police Lt. Mike Eppler echoed Mullen’s sentiment saying that since it is a misdemeanor offence, there is little chance of being arrested. He said that doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t happen, but it depends on the circumstances and the officer.
Mullen said that for the year of 2018 Sherman PD had only issued 12 minor in possession citations related to tobacco and DPD said as of Thursday, the department not issued a single citation for the charge this year.
Eppler noted that even if a minor purchases legally in Oklahoma with it being illegal in Texas, they could still be facing penalties.
“It is a good law,” Martin said. “From the standpoint of where society is going — what people are asking for — it is a good law. Anything that promotes public health is good. I just wish they would have simplified it to make it easier to enforce. But, we’ll do it. We have a lot of rules and regulations we have to follow. This will be one more thing we have to train our personnel on.”
What do you think of the new tobacco regulations? Let reporter Richard A. Todd know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org