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Minimum Age

21 years old is the minimum-age law (both a federal law and a state law) in effect and retailers must follow that law.

Tennessee's state law setting 21 years old as the minimum-age for tobacco, smoking hemp and vaping products took effect January 1, 2021. 

Age to Ask for ID:  Retailers must demand proof of age from a prospective purchaser or recipient if an ordinary person would conclude, based on appearance, that the purchaser or recipient may be under 30.


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.

Restricted Products

Any product that contains tobacco including, but not limited to cigars, cigarettes, bidis and vapor products (e-cigarettes), smoking paraphernalia (a cigarette holder, cigarette papers, smoking pipe, water pipe or other item that is designated primarily to hold smoking material while the smoking material is being smoked), smoking hemp or vapor products.  It is a Class C misdemeanor (see below) for any person to sell or distribute any vapor product to anyone under 21 years of age, or to purchase an vapor products on behalf of any person under 21 years of age.


FDA regulations apply to these tobacco products.

  • 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.
  • Cigars
  • Hookah & Pipe tobacco
  • Dissolvable tobacco products
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), which are products such as:
    • e-cigarettes
    • e-hookah
    • ecigars
    • vape pens
    • advanced refillable personal vaporizers
    • electronic pipes
    • Components and Parts, such as:
      • e-liquids**
      • atomizers
      • batteries (with or without variable voltage)
      • cartomizers (atomizer plus replaceable fluid-filled cartridge)
      • digital display/lights to adjust settings
      • clearomisers
      • tank systems
      • flavors
      • 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

Acceptable Forms of Identification

A driver’s license or other generally accepted means of identification that describes the individual as 21 years of age or older, contains a photograph or other likeness of the individual, and appears on its face to be valid.


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.

Fine/Penalty Schedule for Selling to Minors

Violators shall receive a warning letter for a first violation; a civil penalty of up to $500 for a second violation within 5 years; up to $1,000 for a third violation within 5 years; and up to $1,500 for a fourth or subsequent violation within 5 years. Any person determined to be responsible, in whole or in part, for contributing to or causing the violation to occur, including the owner, manager or employee may be guilty of a violation. Violation of this provision (or the distribution of paraphernalia to minors) is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of not more than thirty (30) days or a fine not more than fifty dollars ($50), or both.

Retailers must demand proof of age from a prospective purchaser or recipient if an ordinary person would conclude, based on appearance, that the purchaser or recipient may be under 29.

Retailers shall provide training to their employees concerning youth access laws which includes, prior to the training and prior to selling tobacco products, requiring employee to sign a statement containing substantially the following words: “I understand that state law prohibits the sale of tobacco, smoking hemp or vapor products to persons under twenty-one (21) years of age and that state law requires me to obtain proof of age from a prospective purchaser of tobacco, smoking hemp or vapor products who, based on appearance, might be as old as twenty-nine (29) years of age. I promise to obey this law, and I understand that monetary or criminal penalties may be imposed on me if I violate this law.”

For a second violation, the retailer will not be subject to penalty if the retailer presents a copy of the signed statement by the employee who made the sale, along with a sworn statement by the retailer that the employee had signed the statement prior to the sale to the minor. For a third violation, the commissioner shall consider such evidence and any other evidence with respect to the amount of the penalty against the owner or manager.


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. Fines and penalties shown here are as of January 17, 2020.

Affirmative Defense

A person who demanded, was shown, and reasonably relied upon proof of age shall not be liable for a civil penalty.


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.”

Minor Possession

It is illegal for a person under 21 to purchase, possess or receive Restricted Products, or to offer false identification for the purpose of purchasing or receiving such product. A minor may handle such products in the course of employment, provided that the person is under the supervision of another employee who is at least 21 years of age, or in the course of agricultural production or storage. Violators shall be issued a citation by a law enforcement officer or school principal who has evidence of the violation and shall be subject to a penalty of $10-$50. The Juvenile Court may also impose community service not to exceed 50 hours for a second or subsequent violation within a 1 year period.


Not applicable under Federal law

Sign Requirement


Retailers must conspicuously post a sign, no smaller than ninety-three and one-half (93 1/2) square inches, at their place of business that is likely to be read at each point of sale that states:


The sign must be at least 93 1/2 square inches. If a sign is not posted, violators shall receive a warning letter for a first violation and a civil penalty of not more than $500 for a second violation within 5 years, not more than $1,000 for a third violation within 5 years, and not more than $1,500 for a fourth or subsequent violation within 5 years. Violation of this provision is also a Class C misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of not more than thirty (30) days, or a fine of not more than fifty dollars ($50), or both.


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.  

We Card - FDA Required Sign


Compliance Checks

As a condition of receiving federal substance abuse block grant funds, federal law requires the state to conduct random, unannounced inspections of tobacco outlets to determine compliance rates. The Department of Agriculture coordinates the inspections.


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

The FDA indicates that it will conduct follow-up compliance checks on stores found in violation.

Minor License Visual Characteristics

Minor license is horizontal. If under 21, there is a red bar to the right of the photo with a yellow "UNDER 21 UNTIL 00-00-0000". Primary photo and address are on the right with license level in yellow title bar. There is small, duplicate ghosted image on the bottom left. For more information and/or image visit page 15 of the Driver's Manual.


Not applicable under Federal law




See additional information and requirements on advertising, labeling and promotion requirements -- available here.

Last updated 02/2021