ELLSWORTH — Last year, Maine became the fourth state in the nation to raise the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21, joining Hawaii, California, and Oregon.
That law, which includes all tobacco products including electronic cigarettes, went into effect on July 1.
Interestingly, there’s a grandfather clause for people who could not possibly be grandparents.
Those who were 18 as of July 1 are grandfathered into being able to legally purchase tobacco products.
“That’s caused some confusion with a lot of cashiers,” said Axl Wallingford, manager of Cigaret Shopper on High Street in Ellsworth. “We’ve had some customers come in and say they were turned down period.”
While it is too early to see any impact on sales, Wallingford did predict that electronic cigarettes would be most likely to be affected given their popularity with younger customers.
Amber Herting, associate director for media advocacy with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), said the grandfathering clause, initially proposed by Rep. Ann C. Perry (D-Calais), was a necessary compromise to ensure that the legislation passed.
“We would have preferred a clean bill,” Herting said. “But this was something we were willing to accept because within three years it won’t be a factor.”
The law was initially vetoed by Governor Paul LePage, who decried it as an attempt at “social engineering.” That veto was later overridden by a more than two-thirds majority vote in the state Legislature.
A press release from the ACS CAN estimated that health care costs in Maine directly related to smoking were $811 million annually.
Becky Smith, director of government relations for the American Heart Association, said in that press release that “reducing youth access to tobacco will reduce use, which will not only save lives but will also save the state in health care dollars.”