There is no federal law that prevents the sale of tobacco to minors. However, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services can withhold grant money to any state that does not have laws prohibiting tobacco sales to minors. For this reason, every state has a specific criminal law that prohibits the sale of tobacco and cigarettes to minors. The general penal code regarding this law provides that a person or business is prohibited from knowingly selling, giving, or furnishing tobacco, cigarettes, and cigarette paper to a minor.

Who Is Considered a Minor?

Most states define "minors" as those under the age of 18. Four states, Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, and Utah have listed minors as those under the age of 19.

What Is Considered Selling to a Minor?

Selling to a minor is considered anything that involves direct, face-to-face exchange in which the purchaser can be identified. This does not involve only selling and can involve furnishing, giving away, or offering to sell.

Can a Vendor Ever Legally Sell Cigarettes to Minors?

Under no circumstance is it ever legal to sell cigarettes to a minor. Claiming that the minor looked "over 18" is never a defense. A vendor should always ask for I.D. from everyone, particularly individuals that appear to be close to or under 18. A vendor always has the right not to sell to anyone, and you should choose not to do so if adequate identification cannot be shown.

What Are the Penalties for Selling Cigarettes to Minors?

Selling cigarettes to minors is a criminal offense, usually a misdemeanor. Penalties include:

  • Fines ranging from $200 to $1,000
  • Possible jail time of up to 90 days
  • Revocation of license to sell cigarettes

Violators that can be charged with selling tobacco to minors can include storeowners, managers, and/or store clerks.

What If a Minor Asks Me to Buy Cigarettes for Them?

Not only can vendors never sell cigarettes to minors, but under no circumstances should someone ever buy cigarettes for minors. Those who do can be fined, or even charged with a crime such as contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

Selling cigarettes to a minor is generally a small offense. However, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer if your tobacco license is going to be revoked or you think you were charged unfairly. Furthermore, if your job involves working with children or you will be subject to background checks, this otherwise small offense may pose big obstacles. In such cases, you should consider talking to an attorney to learn more about your rights and defenses.