BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Area retailers are reacting to a new federal law prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21, but no law has changed regarding the possession of the products in Iowa.
On December 20, 2019, federal legislation was signed by President Donald Trump raising the age for sales of tobacco products from age 18 to 21. The new federal law bars retailers from selling tobacco products – including cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes – to anyone under age 21.
Many retail outlets in Fort Madison are posting signage saying anyone under 21 won’t be allowed to purchase tobacco products.
However, nothing in Iowa law has changed as far as possession. Currently anyone under the age of 18 in possession of tobacco products is subject to a civil penalty.
According to Iowa Code 453 A.2 – a person under eighteen shall not smoke, use, possess, purchase, or attempt to purchase any tobacco, tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, vapor products, or cigarettes. Penalties for the infractions include 1st offense $50.00, 2nd offense $100.00, 3rd and subsequent offense $250.00. There is no criminal penalty for possession in Iowa.
Despite the increase in legal age to purchase the products, county officials have no plans to increase enforcement because nothing has changed in Iowa law.
Fort Madison Police Chief Mark Rohloff said the new law only addresses the sale and not possession of the products. But he said state legislators make take up the issue in the spring session.
“All states have autonomy and until Iowa adopts a law mirroring that, it’s not something we’re going to enforce,” said Fort Madison Police Chief Mark Rohloff.
” Any changes in Iowa law has to come from Iowa legislature.”
Lee County Sheriff’ Stacy Weber agreed saying the sheriff’s department will be enforcing Iowa laws on the books.
“Say we get a 16 year old with a cigarette, that’s enforced as a civil penalty but we’re not doing anything different than before.”