The growing usage of tobacco products and vaping among minors is a worrisome crisis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.6% of High School students used tobacco products in 2023.

E-cigarette use accounted for a huge percentage of this.

For tobacco shops, preventing underage sale starts with age verification. Stronger verification protocols – and increasingly technology – are necessary to fight fake IDs and prevent the sale of tobacco and vape products to minors.

Understanding Age Verification Laws

Interested in how your shop can prepare? It’s important to understand the complex age verification laws for tobacco. Here is a look at federal and state regulations:

Federal Regulations

The federal law T21 or Tobacco 21, states that retailers must not sell tobacco products to anyone under 21.

The T21 law applies to sales of tobacco products – including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookah tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, and electronic nicotine delivery systems such as e-cigarettes and e-liquids.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) runs a nationwide compliance check inspection program to determine retailer’s compliance with federal laws and regulations.

To ease the age verification for tobacco shop owners, the FDA introduced the ‘Digital Age Verification Calendar’ and ‘Age Calculator’, which is the FDA’s free smartphone application.

The FDA Age Calculator will help retailers comply with federal, state, and local age restrictions for selling tobacco products.

In December 2019, Congress increased the federal MLSA (minimum legal sales age) for tobacco products from 18 to 21 years.

Before the enactment of the federal T21 law, localities, states, and territories were increasingly adopting their own T21 laws as a part of a comprehensive approach to prevent youth from accessing tobacco products.

However, retailers must comply with federal law and cannot sell to those under the age of 21 even if the state, localities, and territories has not yet raised the minimum age in state law. This holds true for all states, U.S. territories, and tribal jurisdictions.

Implementing Effective Age Verification Strategies into Tobacco Shop

As per the FDA, retailers must comply with age verification for tobacco shops by checking the photo ID of everyone under 27 and only selling to customers 21 years or older.

Additionally, store owners can’t give away free samples of tobacco products or sell them in a vending machine unless in an adult-only facility.

Retailers can implement tobacco age verification in multiple ways, such as:

  • Manual ID checks
  • Automated ID verification
  • Checking with age database
  • Tracking online activity (behavioral analytics)
  • Third-party age verification
  • Age-gating
  • Electronic age verification

Ultimately, the type of verification you use will be in-person or online (or both) depending on where you sell your products.

In-Store Verification

1. Carding Policy

Typically, in-person verification usually involves “carding” the individual. This is a manual ID check, in which the cashier verifies:

  • Age
  • Matches customer to photo

Manual verification is absolute necessity. However, many tobacco shops don’t have clear guidelines for cashiers.

2. Acceptable Forms of ID

In-person tobacco age verification can be done with a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, that lists the customer’s date of birth.

3. Employee Training

Employees must be trained to conduct tobacco age verification strictly. Typically, they can check the ID for signs of tampering, such as holographic foil, and text is intact.

They must also ensure that the photo on the ID matches the person buying age-restricted products. Provide clear guidelines on who should be carded and what to do if they suspect a fake ID.

Online Verification Techniques

Some regulations exist, such as ‘The Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act’, to purchase age-restricted products online.

This regulation requires online vape retailers to:

  • Verify the age of customers before they can make a purchase
  • An adult must be present at the time of delivery with an ID
  • Shipping packages must display that they contain tobacco products
  • Comply with all the state, local, and territory tax regulations

Online businesses or retailers opt for various online verification techniques, the most common of which are discussed below.

Third-party Verification Services

Online tobacco retailers must use various online age verification checks to sell tobacco. One of those methods is to use third-party verification services.

Age verification online for tobacco sales can be done using third parties like Google to authenticate a user’s age.

This can be achieved via single sign-on, MFA (multi-factor authorization), sharing digital identity documents, or biometrics such as facial recognition to verify the identity.

Age-gated Websites

Age-gating in digital identity verification is when users can self-certify or self-declare their age before accessing age-restricted content, services, or products.

Age-gating is considered the least secure method to verify a user’s age or restrict underage access.

This method is unreliable as an individual can fabricate the date of birth to access a site and purchase products.

Top Considerations for Enhanced Age Verification for Tobacco and Cigar Shops

What matters most to retailers? Here’s a look at some of the most important factors to consider when creating an age verification program:

1. Combatting Fake IDs

Businesses can dial up the notch in identifying fake IDs for tobacco age verification with competent tools and processes.

For instance, ID scanners with hologram lights can be used to check ID with accuracy and efficiency.

Mix it up with a visual inspection to spot if the birth date, expiration date, or photo seems altered or tampered with.

2. Cashier Confidence

Business meeting compliance by incorporating the right technology for age verification for smoke shops can build cashier’s confidence.

Advanced security features reduce the risk of underage sales, improve staff efficiency, and prevent businesses from incurring fines and potential license suspensions.

3. Technology Integration

Tobacco or smoke shops looking to streamline operations should consider investing in age verification software to sell products in-store or online.

A reliable digital age verification solution increases speedy checkouts and faster transactions and complies with regulations.

An intelligent smoke shop POS system can integrate facial recognition technology to verify identity and allow customers to reuse it by creating a digital ID stored in their mobile device.

Customers can even verify their age by scanning a QR code at checkouts (mobile ID wallet) and can use their phone as ID.

Wrapping Up

A robust tobacco age verification solution can help businesses avoid non-compliance, financial losses, and reputation damage.

Furthermore, it is crucial today to protect your business from underage sales and the dangers of fake IDs.

Implementing a user-friendly digital age verification solution is a must to safeguard the business, increase staff efficiency, and promote a safer community.