Customers must be 21 years or older to purchase tobacco products, e-cigarettes and e-vapor products (See Restricted Products section). It is illegal to sell, give or furnish, or cause to be sold, given or furnished, tobacco products to or for anyone under 21.
Age to Ask for ID: D.C.'s law requires asking for ID for any customer who appears under 30 years old.
Deny sales to anyone under 21 years old for FDA regulated products (SEE Restricted Products section).
Note: The new federal 21 year minimum-age for FDA regulated products of all tobacco and vaping products (SEE Restricted Products section) was declared immediately effective on December 20, 2019. This law allows for no exceptions.
You must Check photo ID of everyone appearing under age 30 who attempts to purchase FDA regulated products and verify the customer is of legal age to purchase. This is an each-and-every time requirement (even if you know the person to be of legal are.) If you "carded" them yesterday, you must "card" them again today!
Decline a sale when the customer is underage, has no photo ID, the photo ID contains no date-of-birth or the photo ID has expired.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and e-vapor products.
FDA regulations apply to these tobacco products defined under the Tobacco Control Act as any product made or derived from tobacco or containing nicotine from any source (e.g., synthetic nicotine) that is intended for human consumption.
- Cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco
- Do NOT break open cigarette packages to sell products in smaller amounts.
- Do NOT sell single cigarettes, also called "loosies."
- Do NOT sell cigarette packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes.
- Do NOT sell flavored cigarettes, cigarette tobacco or roll-your-own tobacco (other than menthol or tobacco.)
- Only sell in a direct face-to-face exchange*.
- Smokeless tobacco
- Do NOT break open packages to sell products in smaller amounts.
- Only sell in a direct face-to-face exchange*.
- Do NOT sell without a health warning label.
- Hookah & Pipe tobacco
- Dissolvable tobacco products
- Nicotine gels
- Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), which are products such as:
- vape pens
- advanced refillable personal vaporizers
- electronic pipes
- Components and Parts, such as:
- batteries (with or without variable voltage)
- cartomizers (atomizer plus replaceable fluid-filled cartridge)
- digital display/lights to adjust settings
- tank systems
- vials that contain e-liquids
- programmable software
- Do NOT give away free samples of any of these FDA regulated products or components and parts. EXCEPTION: Free samples of smokeless tobacco are only allowed in a "qualified adult-only facility" -- where no person younger than 21 is permitted to enter or be present (or a higher minimum-age if your state or locality has a higher age limit.)
- Do NOT sell in vending machines UNLESS you operate a "qualified adult-only facility" -- where no person younger than 21 is permitted to enter or be present (or a higher minimum-age if your state or locality has a higher age limit.) Some state laws prohibit tobacco product vending machines. Check your state law.
EXCLUDED from FDA regulation are accessories, such as: ashtrays, spittoons, hookah tongs, cigar clips and stands, pipe pouches, humidors.
* The sale of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco and smokeless tobacco through vending machines and self-service displays are allowed ONLY in adult-only facilities where no person younger than 21 is permitted to enter or be present (or a higher minimum-age if your state or locality has a higher age limit.)
** Retail establishments, such as vape shops, that mix and/or prepare e-liquids or assemble vaporizers are considered "tobacco product manufacturers." Many separate regulations will apply. See FDA regulations for tobacco product manufacturers at www.fda.gov.
Persons selling tobacco products that have a reasonable cause to believe that a purchaser is under 21 shall require the purchaser (anyone who appears under 30 years old) to present identification that indicates the purchaser’s age.
Unless otherwise required by state or local law, FDA recommends that retailers accept only government-issued photographic identification with the bearer’s date of birth. (e.g., State-issued driver’s license or identification card, military identification card, passport or immigration card) for establishing a legal age to purchase FDA regulated products. The Photo ID is not acceptable if it has expired.
Violators are guilty of a misdemeanor, subject to a fine of $100.00-$500.00 and/or imprisonment of up to 30 days for the first offense, and a fine of $500.00-$1,000.00 and/or imprisonment of up to 90 days for the second offense. Suspension of the seller’s cigarette sales license is also possible for the first or second offense. The license shall be revoked for third or subsequent offenses.
Persons selling tobacco products that have a reasonable cause to believe that a purchaser is under 21 shall require the purchaser to present identification that indicates the purchaser’s age.
Under District of Columbia law, it is unlawful for an adult to “deliver” drug paraphernalia to a person under 21 (punishable by a fine of up to $15,000.00, and/or imprisonment up to eight years). District of Columbia law defines drug paraphernalia to include objects used, intended for use, or designed for use in ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing controlled substances into the body, such as metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic pipes with or without screens, permanent screens, hashish heads, or punctured metal bowls and water pipes. The term also includes cigarette rolling paper or cigar leaf wrappers sold at a commercial retail establishment, which does not derive at least 25% of its total annual revenue from the sale of tobacco products and which does not sell loose tobacco intended to be rolled into cigarettes and cigars.
FDA has a variety of enforcement tools to address retailers who violate Federal statutes or regulations, including civil money penalties, warning letters, seizures, injunctions, no-sale orders and/or criminal prosecution. Retailers who violate the regulations may also be in violation of state law and subject to state penalties or other related orders.
Federal law provides that the FDA shall adopt regulations that may provide any retailer that implements the “approved training program,” a reduced civil money penalty if that retailer is found in violation. The FDA does not require training, but it recommends retailers train and educate their employees.
Until the FDA issues guidance or regulations on what constitutes an FDA “approved training program,” the FDA indicates “the agency intends to use a lower maximum civil money penalties schedule for all retailers who violate the regulations restricting the sale and distribution of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, whether or not they have implemented a training program. However, FDA may consider further reducing the civil money penalty for retailers who have implemented a training program.”
District of Columbia law does not specifically prohibit tobacco possession by a minor (but does prohibit purchase by a minor).
Not applicable under Federal law
Anywhere that Restricted Products are sold, a sign must be posted that states:
NO TOBACCO PRODUCT WILL BE SOLD TO ANY PERSON UNDER 21 YEARS OF AGE. SALES CLERKS WILL ASK FOR PROOF OF AGE FROM ANY PERSON SEEKING TO PURCHASE ANY TOBACCO PRODUCT WHO APPEARS TO BE UNDER 30 YEARS OF AGE. THE MAXIMUM FINE FOR A VIOLATION OF THIS SECTION IS $500 FOR THE FIRST OFFENSE AND $1,000 FOR THE SECOND OFFENSE.
The sign shall be visible to the public at the entrance to the area and on the interior of the area in sufficient numbers to give notice of the law to the public.
Effective 8/10/18: For retailers who sell cigars individually without packaging, there is an FDA sign requirement. Download We Card's Sign
Alert: A U.S. District court overturned this regulation in February 2020. However, there are expectations this regulation will be revisited and may be reinstated after ongoing adjustments or legal matters before the courts. Therefore, retailers need to be prepared for this requirement IF it is required once the legal matters are resolved by the court.
Cigars Sold Individually without Packaging - Retailers who sell cigars individually, and not in a product package must post a sign at each point-of-sale that displays all six of the required warning statements per 21 CFR § 1143.5(a)(3). Each sign must be at least 8.5x11 inches in size; clear, legible, and conspicuous; printed in black Helvetica bold or Arial bold type or other similar sans serif fonts against a solid white background, in at least 17-point font size with appropriate spacing between the warning statements; posted on or within 3 inches of each cash register where payment may be made; and unobstructed in its entirety and read easily by each consumer making a purchase. The required warning statements on the sign must be: printed in a manner that contrasts, by typography, layout, or color, with all other printed material; and capitalized and punctuated as indicated above.
As a condition of receiving federal substance abuse block grant funds, federal law requires the Washington, D.C. to conduct random, unannounced inspections of tobacco outlets to determine compliance rates. Inspections are conducted by Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs and the Metropolitan Police Department.
FDA conducts compliance checks of retail stores to determine whether retailers are complying with the new federal law, using:
- Attempted purchases of tobacco using underage customers.
- Inspections of stores for other compliance requirements.
- Inspections of stores in response to public complaints to the FDA’s request for the general public to report suspected store violations (1-877-CTP-1373 or AskCTP@fda.hhs.gov)
The FDA indicates that it will conduct follow-up compliance checks on stores found in violation.
Minor licenses are vertical. UNDER 21 UNTIL 00-00-0000 written in red below the photo. Provisional license has a pale green header bar. For additional information about minor licenses, visit here.
Not applicable under Federal law
See additional information and requirements on advertising, labeling and promotion requirements -- available here.