HUNTINGTON — In Huntington, confusion and a lack of details surround a new law prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

That new law has officially gone into effect, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At least 19 states had already raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products, but West Virginia had not.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed a spending bill to keep the government operating and to stave off another shutdown crisis. That sweeping bill granted federal employees paid paternity leave, allocated money for Trump’s planned Space Force branch of the military and officially raised the legal age to buy tobacco, among other things.

On Friday, the FDA updated its tobacco retail guidelines to state: “It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product — including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21. FDA will provide additional details on this issue as they become available.”

However, those details were not immediately clear to some retail establishments in Huntington. Some business owners and employees said they felt out of the loop on the sudden change in the law.

At Stogie’s Discount Tobacco & Beer along U.S. Route 60, employees said they were not sure when the new law went into effect. However, they stressed the store would follow federal law once they had more information.

At one Huntington vape store, an employee said she was not aware of how the law would effect the sale of vaporizers and tobacco vape juice to anyone under 21. She was also unaware the law was already in effect.

Imad Jarwan, co-owner of Lulu Mart on Huntington’s West End, said he was not sure if the new law affected all retail establishments or only federal establishments like military commissaries. Jarwan said he was concerned the ban could affect cigarette and vaporizer sales at his store.

“You’re a legal adult,” he said. “You can go out and join the military, but you can’t buy cigarettes.”

Advocates for raising the legal smoking age say the change could help save lives, making it more difficult for teens to get access to the deadly and addictive products.

According to a West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention study, approximately 147,900 children in the state were expected to become smokers by 2014. Of those, about 47,000 are expected to die from smoking-related illnesses.

The rate at which high school students were denied tobacco sales because of their age was about 15% in 2013.

This year, two bills were introduced to raise the legal smoking age to 21 in West Virginia (excluding active duty military members who are at least 18 years old). However, both bills failed to gain support.

In September, Ohio implemented a law making it illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase cigarettes, tobacco products or vaping products. Virginia and Pennsylvania were among 19 other states to implement similar laws.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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