Feb. 28 1997
Washington, DC - Today the FDA rule takes its first critical step toward its goal of reducing youth tobacco use by 50 percent in seven years. This initial provision, requiring retailers to ask for a photo ID for anyone under age 27 attempting to buy tobacco products, marks the first time this nation has had a uniform standard enabling retailers to stop the flood of illegal tobacco sales to minors. Cigarettes and other tobacco products are far too accessible for kids today. Seventy-seven percent of 8th graders and 91 percent of 10th graders say that cigarettes are "very easy" or "fairly easy" for them to get. (Monitoring the Future Study, an annual, national survey of American secondary school students, University of Michigan, December 1996.) Aggressive enforcement combined with retailer education has proven to be effective. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, when retail education programs were combined with compliance checks in several California towns, over-the-counter tobacco sales to minors dropped from 71 to 24 percent. Smoking has become a pediatric epidemic in the U.S. Teen smoking has increased to its highest level in 17 years. In the last five years smoking rates among 8th graders alone have risen 50 percent, from 14 percent in 1991 to 21 percent in 1996. (Monitoring the Future Study, an annual, national survey of American secondary school students, University of Michigan, December 1996.) But today is only the beginning of a comprehensive initiative that will begin reversing this alarming trend. The real battle to protect our children from tobacco lies ahead. Other elements of the FDA rule, aimed at limiting the appeal of tobacco to minors, will be phased in later this year and next. It is now essential that we move forward with the rest of the FDA rule, currently under legal attack by the tobacco industry, and stop the tobacco companies from marketing their products directly to kids.