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Tobacco 21

  

   

21 means 21, no matter what

The federal law on tobacco sales is clear: it's illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. How does that impact retailers and people who purchase tobacco in Wisconsin? It's simple: 21 means 21, no matter what. Everywhere tobacco is sold, retailers are checking customers' IDs to verify their age.

Raising the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21 helps reduce tobacco use among young people. That's important because tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.—and nearly 95% of adult smokers say they started using tobacco before 21. You can do your part for a healthier Wisconsin just by following the federal law.

What you should know

  • Tobacco 21 went into immediate effect in December 2019 when President Donald Trump signed it into federal law.
  • The federal law applies to all retailers in the U.S., including all states, U.S. territories, and Tribal jurisdictions.
  • Tobacco 21 applies to all purchasers in the U.S., too. There are no phase-in options or exemptions for specific populations (like "grandfathering in" 18- to 20-year-olds or excluding military service members).

Which products are impacted by Tobacco 21?

The law applies to the sale of all tobacco products, without exception. The shape, size, or deliver method doesn't matter. If it contains tobacco or nicotine, the product cannot be sold to anyone under 21, no matter what. This includes:

  • Electronic nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes, vapes, and e-liquids
  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars
  • Pipe and hookah tobacco
  • Smokeless tobacco like dip, snus, and chew

What retailers need to know

Wisconsin's tobacco retailers play a vital role in making sure both employees and customers follow the federal law. You can help everyone understand what Tobacco 21 means for them, just by reminding coworkers and customers that "21 means 21, no matter what." You can also help people around you follow the law. How?

  • Let customers know that your store checks IDs and doesn't sell tobacco products to anyone under 21. There are lots of free resources for retailers that can help.
  • Ensure employees follow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for checking customers' IDs to very their age. Provide free WITobaccoCheck.org training on responsible tobacco sales.

Sales person at checkout counter of store

Train your employees for free

Businesses and employees can pay the price when tobacco products get sold to people under age 21. But there's a simple way to avoid costly license suspensions and fines.

At WiTobaccoCheck.org, your employees can get trained with a state-approved online tool for learning tobacco sales laws. It's fast, easy, and free.

Get free training


Selling tobacco? Verify they're 21.

It only takes a moment to verify a customer's age. Ask them for a valid photo ID, which usually means a Wisconsin driver's license or state ID that hasn't expired. Be extra cautious when checking a vertical ID. If the ID is vertical, it's likely they're not 21 since IDs tend to be horizontal once a person turns 21. Once you have a customer's ID, you can follow the law in four simple steps.

Tobacco: step 1: show ID (large)

Step 1: Hold up their ID.

Some IDs look different than others. Wisconsin designs its driver's licenses and state IDs to reflect a person's age. People under age 21 are issued a vertical (top-to-bottom) ID, while those 21 and older receive a horizontal (left-to-right) card. Because some Wisconsinites may still carry an unexpired vertical ID after they turn 21, it's important to check vertical IDs carefully.


Tobacco: Step 2: check birth date

Step 2: Look at their birth date.

It's not always where you'd expect. On a Wisconsin driver's license or state ID, look for the date under the person's photo.


Tobacco: Step 3: Calculate date by scanning bar code (large)

Step 3: Locate or calculate the date they turn 21.

Some IDs identify when people turn 21. Some don't. Using the FDA's Age Verification Calendar or mobile app is a quick way to calculate a customer's age. No calendar? Take their birth year and add 20. Then add 1 more. (Jan 3, 1984+20+1=Jan 3, 2005.) This is their 21st birth date.


Step 4: Illustration of smiling adult (large)

Step 4: Is their 21st birth date in the future?

If your customer's 21st birthday occurs after the current date, they'll have to wait. Don't make the sale and let them know it's illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under age 21.


Order free Tobacco 21 materials

Request these updated materials designed to assist tobacco retailers to follow the federal Tobacco 21 sales law.

Please note: Some pieces are download only; others are printed and will be shipped to you.

  • Cost: None, no handling fees
  • Firm quantity limit: None
  • Estimated arrival: 10 days from placing your order

  Order materials shipped to you

ID Check reference cards

A palm card that reads "21 means 21, no matter what. Make sure you're following federal law. Verify Id's and don't sell tobacco to anyone under 21." Next to the text is one hand passing on a driver's license to another.

Handy reference tool to help clerks and cashiers accurately check ID cards. Printed on sturdy card stock.

Fits in #10 business envelope for easy mailing, two-sided

Will ship printed reference cards in English only. To order, follow instructions above.

Reference cards in Spanish, Arabic, Hmong, Somali, and Hindi are only available for download

Campaign buttons

A digital picture of the text inside the Tobacco 21 buttons. It reads "Buying Tobacco? 21 means 21 no matter what."

Campaign-style buttons in English with safety pin clasp for clerks and cashiers to wear on their lapels, vests, or shirts.

3 inch diameter

Will ship. To order, follow instructions above.

Birthdate signs

A sign that reads "Following the federal tobacco sales law is simple. To purchase tobacco or vapes, a person must be 21 years old born or on before today's date in...." with a space to write in the year.

Simple sign to help cashiers, clerks, and customers easily know who is old enough to buy tobacco. Main message says “To purchase tobacco or vapes, a person must be 21 years old born on or before today’s date in___” Fill in the blank with the current year minus 21.

11 inches wide, 8.5 inches tall

Download only

English

Vinyl window clings

A window cling that reads "21 means 21, no matter what. It's illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under 21. So get your ID ready--it will be checked." Below is a picture of a Wisconsin driver's license.

Informative vinyl cling that sticks to the insides of windows for customers to see as they enter. Main message says “21 Means 21, No Matter What.”

6.75 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall, sticks without adhesive for easy and clean removal

Will ship. To order, follow instructions above.

English, Spanish

Small horizontal posters

A horizontal poster that reads "21 means 21, No matter what. We always check IDs, because it's illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under 21." Underneath is a hand passing a drivers license to another hand.

Horizontal poster that lets customers know their ID will be checked. Printed on poster paper. Main message says “21 Means 21, No Matter What.” Also works well as a counter mat when placed in a plastic sleeve.

11 inches wide, 8.5 inches tall

Will ship. To order, follow instructions above.

English, Spanish

Large vertical posters

A horizontal poster that reads "21 means 21, No matter what. We always check IDs, because it's illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under 21." Underneath is a hand passing a drivers license to another hand.

Vertical poster that lets customers know their ID will be checked. Printed on poster paper. Main message says “21 Means 21, No Matter What.”

17 inches tall, 11 inches wide

Will ship. To order, follow instructions above

English, Spanish

 

   Questions about ordering T21 materials?

Email Nancy Michaud, Youth Access Prevention Coordinator, at the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

Image of legal age calculator

Digital Age Verification Calendars

Digital, programmable age verification calendar for retailers to help determine if a customer is old enough to legally purchase tobacco products.

Download the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) age calculator app on The App Store or Google Play or order for free from the FDA

 

 Get free help to quit commercial tobacco and nicotine

WI Tobacco Quit Line

Customized plans and coaching
Ages 13+
 800-Quit-Now
 Text "READY" to 34191
 Website

Live Vape Free

Text support to quit e-cigarettes
Ages 13-17
 Text "VAPEFREE" to 873373
 Website

American Indian Quit Line

Culturally tailored coaching
Ages 18+
 888-7Ai-Quit
 Website

First Breath

Support during and after pregnancy
Ages 18+
 Website

The word "tobacco" on this page refers to commercial tobacco, not traditional Native American tobacco.

Traditional tobacco: a sacred medicine for healing; offerings to the Creator; and spiritual gifts to express gratitude, show respect, and ask for prayers or advice. Commercial tobacco ("tobacco"): a corruption of traditional tobacco into dangerous recreational commodities like cigarettes, vapes, and chewing tobacco.
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Last revised December 29, 2023