With change to tobacco purchasing age, businesses start seeing impact in sales

President Trump signed legislation at the end of December to raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.  Some states had already changed the age to buy tobacco products to at least 21 before this federal law. However, Minnesota and Wisconsin didn’t pass legislation on their own.

While this is still new to many, local businesses are already starting to see the impact on sales.

Thursday was the first day Holy Smokes! on Rose Street started to enforce the 21 and up law. Signs were posted on the front door and around the store alerting customers. While many of the regulars are over 21, the store’s manager said this could still harm the business.

“We get a lot of new business when the college kids first come here and that’s going to be a large chunk of them that we’re going to have to turn away,” said Ilya Valentine-Brown, manager of Holy Smokes!.

Part of the worry is that unlike other stores, like Kwik Trip, they now don’t have a lot of extra products that someone could purchase under 21. The store also sells alcohol, which used to be one of the few items you had to be 21 or older to buy.

“About half of our inventory is things that before the law changed you only had to be 18 to buy,” Valentine-Brown said.

While businesses might be concerned, doctors like Todd Mahr with Gundersen Health System say the new age limit law is great, especially because it includes e-cigarettes and vaping devices.

“New devices, like Juul, have the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes or more in one pod. So these kids are getting high doses of nicotine,” said Mahr, a pediatrician.

While other smoking rates have gone down, the use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed, especially among young people. E-cigarette use increased from 11.7% to 20.8% among high school students and from 3.3% to 4.9% among middle school students from 2017 to 2018, according to the CDC.

“We know that kids who start smoking in their teen years become lifetime smokers,” Mahr said.

Mahr said by having this at a federal level, it prevents people from trying to go to other businesses, perhaps across state lines, to get these products.

“They’ll find ways around it like youth always do. But I think any barrier, and I think what studies have shown, it does decrease access slightly and you have fewer kids start smoking,” Mahr said.

So far, Valentine-Brown has had to break the news to about six people. She said they’ll have to see how much it impacts business.

“You can definitely tell that people are not happy,” she said.

While the change might prevent people from picking up the habit or get them to try to stop, it’s going to be at the business’ expense.