BizWorthy: Users, Retailers Upset Over Sudden Age Restrictions On Tobacco Sales

Jan 16, 2020

There's a lot of young tobacco and vape users who are angry right now. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration began to immediately enforce a ban on the sale of tobacco to anyone under 21 on Dec. 20, the same day that President Trump signed legislation raising the minimum age of purchase. 

Typically, new FDA regulations are phased in over 60 to 90 days.

The immediate enforcement also surprised retailers. 

Julia Sanders works at Mad Vapes, a company with around a dozen stores in the Charlotte area. She says her store in the University City area is still selling to 18- to 21-year-olds while it waits for clarification from local law enforcement.

“When the government passes something, we usually get a date saying, ‘You have until this long to comply,’” Sanders told WFAE. “That didn’t happen. And all of a sudden it’s ‘Oh no, this is happening now.’ It’s like, well, what do you mean, this is happening now? You’re not giving us any time to prepare for this.”

Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger joins WFAE Morning Edition host Marshall Terry for more on this and other business news in the latest BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: So, Tony, you report that this change has upset a lot of young customers and that clerks are bearing the brunt of it. Tell us what you learned.

Tony Mecia: Well, it's been kind of interesting. Like you mentioned, you know, this really took effect very quickly, really over the holidays, and it caught a lot of retailers off guard. They didn't have their point of sale systems — you know, the in-store sale systems, when you check I.D. — those weren't set up. They didn't have new signs. It caught a lot of people off guard. And also at a time when there was a lot of news coming out of Washington about impeachment, so it sort of got buried that the federal government was changing the legal age for buying tobacco to 21.

So, what's been happening and talking to some of these vape owners locally in town, is that something they would have customers who would come in that had been used to buying Juuls or other kinds of e-cigarettes, you know, and then they come in and say, "Oh, I'm sorry. The age is now 21." And as you might imagine, that can be very upsetting, and so they would curse at the clerks — you know, I can't repeat the words on this family radio station, but, you know, very choice words and would take off.

Terry: Any idea of how much this change is costing retailers?

Mecia: Well, one of the clerks I talked to down at a vape store in Matthews said that since it went into effect about three weeks ago, that he's losing sales of about $500 a day. So, he wasn't very happy with that and said, you know, it seems sort of crazy that people at that age — at 19 or 20 — they can own a gun, they can serve in the military, they can buy a house, but they can't get e-cigarettes.

Terry: Do we know why this change took effect immediately instead of being phased in?

Mecia: Well, I think the thinking was that in a lot of states, it's already the age to buy. Tobacco is already 21, and I think the FDA looked at it and said, "Well, all we're really doing is changing the age. That's not really — shouldn't be any big deal, so we're just going to enact it immediately." But obviously, you know, there are some problems to doing that in that you're catching a lot of these retailers pretty flat-footed.

And I talked to the head of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association who said really it wasn't very well planned out at all. He's been hearing a lot of blowback from it. The other piece of it, Marshall, is that, you know, state law in North Carolina is still 18. And so, you know, state law enforcement has said, "Well, we're not going to cite anybody if they're 20 years old and buying tobacco because North Carolina law is 18."

So, you have this sort of disconnect on the law. You also have, the guy with the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association told me, that actually federal agents were out in northeastern North Carolina trying to enforce this law to make sure that retailers were not selling to people under the age of 21, and so, you know, the consequences to retailers, you know, are pretty significant.

Terry: Let's move on to banking now. Charlotte's new bank, Truist, has unveiled its logo. So, what do you think?

Mecia: Well, it's certainly a very clean, crisp look. It's a logo, Marshall, that is white lettering on a purple background. It says Truist, and it's right next to what looks like interlocking puzzle pieces. You'll recall that when the name came out about six months ago, a lot of people said, "Well, Truist, what does that even mean?" And, you know, they were sued by Truliant Federal Credit Union because Truliant thought they had a very similar name.

You know, this logo, I think it was a little bit better received. We don't really know. You sort of look at comments online. The Charlotte Ledger did a poll — wildly unscientific — in which most people said they actually liked it. It looked kind of crisp, dignified. Now, it doesn't necessarily look like a bank, but I think it was pretty well received. I mean, of course, if you look at other logos that other companies have, there are very there ones that are maybe a little bit similar, certainly with the color scheme, you know, the white on the purple, you know, you think of Yahoo, Novant Health locally — that's white on purple or sometimes purple on white.

So, I mean, there are some similarities to other logos. But, you know, certainly Truist is hoping that this is a logo that's distinctive, helped set them apart. Companies, you know, they spend a lot of money developing these because it's really the sort of the first impression that a lot of people have of their companies.

Terry: Atrium has made some changes to its development proposals in Dilworth, and this is after hearing from neighbors who were concerned over the original plans. So, what's changed?

Mecia: Well, they've made some changes into what the uses are going to be at that site. You'll recall that a few months ago over the summer, Atrium came out with this rezoning request with the city in which they, among the other uses that they put in there, would be the ability to build some buildings of 60 feet or 150 feet tall right next to some of these residential streets off of East Boulevard.

And now they've gone and they've worked with the neighbors over the last few months, and they've made a few adjustments to that. They've said, for example, initially they had said they might want to build a hotel or nursing home facilities on that site at some point in the future. They've crossed that out.

They put a cap on the limit of apartments they might build there to around 400, 450 or so. They've adjusted some of the maximum heights, put in buffers, agreed not to connect to a residential street called Fountain View, which is off of East Boulevard. So, they've made some concessions with the neighbors to try to make everybody happy.