DOD prepares to implement tobacco age restrictions

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a new policy that is intended to improve the health of Americans will take effect later this summer. Beginning Aug1, anyone under age 21 will no longer be able to purchase tobacco products including electronic nicotine delivery systems at Department of Defense installations, facilities and naval vessels at U.S. ports.

Known as Tobacco 21 or T21, the new law amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and increases the federal minimum age from 18 to 21 for tobacco sales. Patrons will have to show their ID to prove their age. On naval vessels at foreign ports and sea, the federal minimum age remains at 18, taking into account international law and treaties. However, there is no law prohibiting the usage of tobacco products, such as when they are purchased for those under 21 to use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.”

“Research has shown that raising the legal age of sale to 21 would likely reduce youth tobacco initiation and use,” said Corey Fitzgerald, a public health social worker at the Army Public Health Center.

The APHC’s goal, Fitzgerald said, “is to eliminate tobacco use from the Army by 2025.”

Under Secretary of Defense Matthew P. Donovan recently issued a memorandum directing implementation of the new policy starting Aug. 1 across the Department of Defense, including “commissary, Exchange, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation outlets.”

Signs informing patrons of the policy change are to be posted at outlets by July 1, and retailers should have enough tobacco cessation products before implementation begins. Donovan has directed treatment facilities to have ample tobacco cessation products, as part of Tricare benefits. In addition, service members trying to cease tobacco usage due to this policy change may seek appropriate counseling and treatment, according to the memorandum.

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall began distributing information on the new legislation last week. Albert Mack, the Army Substance Abuse Program manager on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, emailed copies of the memorandum to all command sergeants major for dissemination. The Andrew Rader U.S. Army Health Clinic, the Smoking Cessation Program and managers at the Main Exchange, Commissary, shoppette and the MCX also received copies of the policy. Plans to install signage at the stores are now in progress.

“From what I understand signs will be placed at all the locations and at the registers,” said Mack.

The long-range benefits of the new policy do not come without obstacles, however.

“I think it will be an adjustment for some young Soldiers, but the Rader Clinic has a Tobacco Cessation Program that they can enroll in to help them learn how to live tobacco-free and reduce associated health risks” said Mack. “They can call the main clinic line to get connected to the POC for the program.”

The hope is to rally as much support as possible of the new law.

“For this policy to be effective at increasing the readiness and health of our Army, leaders at all levels need to communicate support of Tobacco 21 laws,” explained Fitzgerald. “Tobacco 21 with no military exemption was passed because the health of our young Soldiers is just as important as their civilian peers.”