Retailers play a direct and vital role in protecting youth from tobacco use and reducing the overall health burden of tobacco products. With more than 2 million middle and high school students nationwide currently using electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes,” and many more experimenting, vape shops represent important—and lifesaving—intervention points for preventing tobacco use and addiction among kids.

Under the 2016 “deeming rule,” vape shops must, for the first time under federal law, check photo IDs to ensure e-cigarettes and other vaping products are not sold to those under the age of 18. In states or territories with more restrictive age limits, for instance where the minimum age to purchase tobacco products is 19 or 21, retailers must follow the state/territory tobacco laws.

The FDA’s new retailer education program, “This is Our Watch,” provides free resources to help retailers, including vape shop owners and their employees as well as those selling cigarettes and other FDA-regulated tobacco products, understand and comply with federal regulations. Materials include a poster, stickers and signs for the register, flyers explaining federal requirements, and a calendar to help verify a customer’s age.

Tobacco retailers throughout the U.S. were recently mailed a package of these materials, and additional copies of these resources can be downloaded or ordered for free from the FDA website ( The materials are meant to be shared with store employees, such as managers and clerks, and can be placed behind the counter where they are easy to see. The materials can also help retailers maintain positive relationships with their customers by informing patrons of the laws and emphasizing the role retailers play in protecting kids from tobacco products’ harms.

The FDA resources cover major federal requirements meant to save lives. Among these requirements, retailers must:
• Check photo ID of everyone under age 27 who attempts
to purchase any tobacco product.

• Only sell tobacco products to customers age 18 or older.
– Retailers must also follow state/territory tobacco laws, even if they are more restrictive. For example, in some states the minimum age is 19 or 21.

• Never sell tobacco products in a vending machine unless
it is an adult-only facility.
– An adult-only facility is one in which minors are neither present nor permitted to enter at any time.

• NOT giwve away free samples of tobacco products, including any of their components or parts, to consumers, no matter their age.

In addition to the resources provided as part of “This Is Our Watch,” the FDA has also recently launched a voluntary smartphone application, “FDA Age Calculator” designed to help tobacco retailers comply with age restriction laws. While not directly tied to the new educational program, the application complements these resources and is available on both the Google Play and iTunes app stores.

As part of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA closely monitors retailer compliance with federal tobacco laws and regulations, and responds to violations with actions such as warning letters, civil money penalties, and no-tobacco-sale orders. Through educational programs like “This is Our Watch,” the FDA seeks to engage retailers as partners in preventing youth tobacco sales and encourage compliance with federal tobacco retail laws.

The FDA relies on you—the retail community—as a partner in helping protect youth from tobacco-related disease and death by keeping tobacco products out of minors’ hands. SVBS

Mitch Zeller, J.D., is the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. Mr. Zeller’s experience on FDA issues spans more than 30 years. Prior to his current role, Mr. Zeller was Senior Vice President at Pinney Associates, where he provided strategic planning and communications advice on domestic and global public health policy issues involving the treatment of tobacco dependence and the regulation of tobacco products and pharmaceuticals. He previously served at FDA in the 1990s as Associate Commissioner and Director of FDA’s first Office of Tobacco Programs. Mr. Zeller is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the American University Washington College of Law. [email protected], 877-287-1373,