Port: Who is actually going to enforce the new age-21 smoking law?

Forum file photo
Forum file photo

MINOT, N.D. -- The new age-21 smoking law, inserted into an end-of-year-spend-a-palooza appropriations bill passed by Congress on the way out of town for the holidays, is a foolish piece of policy.

Adults should be allowed to make adult decisions.

Smoking is not good for you.

Vaping isn't good for you, either, though many believe it's better for you than smoking. All things being equal, you really shouldn't be doing either, but it's not up to the government to make your lifestyle choices for you.

If adults want to smoke or vape, they should.


People who are 18, 19, or 20-years-old are adults. Our government can draft them into the military, train them to use powerful weapons to kill our nation's enemies, but they can't be trusted to make a decision about vaping?

C'mon. Let's live in the real world.

But set that question aside for a moment. Let's not debate, for the moment, whether or not smoking/vaping it should be legal for people aged 18 to 20.

Let's talk about how Congress went about making it illegal.

Because not only is the policy itself stupid (at least in this humble observer's point of view), but the way they went about it is ridiculous too.

For one thing, it's not entirely clear when the law is in effect. According to a recent news story by reporter Adam Kurtz , people who sell tobacco or vaping products aren't sure what they're supposed to be doing. Some are still selling to 18- and 20-year-olds, others aren't.

Per Kurtz, the FDA says the law is in effect as of Dec. 21, but is the FDA really in charge of that? Nobody seems to know.

There is also the question of enforcement. This new ban is a federal policy, and local law enforcement officials don't enforce federal laws.


“For my work in what we do as state's attorneys, we only enforce state law,” Haley Wamstad, state’s attorney for Grand Forks County, told Kurtz. “So obviously, retailers will have to comply with both, but it'd be up to the feds to prosecute any violations of federal law.”

A Grand Forks cop says they, too, aren't about to start enforcing federal laws. He also gave Kurtz a handout they got from the feds, which says the “FDA will oversee enforcement of the minimum legal sales age at 21.”

Are we now going to have FDA agents patrolling our streets, accosting young-looking North Dakotans who are smoking or vaping to see if they're of age?

How much is that going to cost the taxpayers?

I spoke with North Dakota's top federal law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, and he seemed a bit nonplussed by the situation. "The new tobacco provision has not made its way into our law enforcement priorities at this point," he told me. "We'll deal with these citations as they arrive."

It sure doesn't sound like busting 20-year-old vapers is a priority for Wrigley right now.

I suspect the feds are expecting state and local governments will now follow the lead of Congress and put in place their own age-21 tobacco policies, but why should we?

Why shouldn't the issue remain a local one?


We didn't need Congress to step in on this issue. Unfortunately, those dim bulbs did so anyway, and as usual, have made a royal mess of things.

They should do us a favor and repeal this nonsense.

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Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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