Sep. 14 2000
Washington, DC — The latest issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Medicine includes a new study by the University of Massachusetts Medical School showing that states are still falling short in complying with the 1992 federal law, known as the Synar Amendment, that requires states to enact and effectively enforce a law prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors. While compliance rates have improved in some states, they remain well below the level required to have an impact on youth smoking in most states, and illegal sales of tobacco to minors remain unacceptably high throughout most of the country. The Synar Amendment can be used to encourage states to enforce their youth access laws, but as the study points out, the Synar Amendment can accomplish its intended goal only if the states rigorously enforce it and the federal government sets high standards and holds the states accountable.
As with most areas of tobacco prevention, we know what will work to reduce illegal sales of tobacco to kids; we simply need to do it. As part of a comprehensive tobacco prevention program, every state in the country should use tobacco settlement dollars or other sources to adequately fund meaningful enforcement efforts. These efforts must include regular, unannounced inspections of tobacco retailers, with significant penalties for violators and, ultimately, license suspension for repeat offenders. States like Florida and Vermont that have followed this model have reduced illegal sales to minors to less than 10 percent. While youth access enforcement alone will not reduce tobacco use to the degree needed, it is an important element in a comprehensive program that also includes public education (counter-marketing), community and school-based programs, and help for smokers who want to quit. Again, states like California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Florida that have adopted these proven strategies have succeeded in reducing tobacco use.
Unfortunately, illegal sales of tobacco to youth may only get worse as a result of the tobacco industry's successful court challenge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's tobacco rule. The youth access provisions of this rule were being enforced through contracts with the states that provided funding for tens of thousands of compliance checks across the country. These enforcement efforts ended as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's March ruling overturning the FDA rule. The U.S. Congress must act to give the FDA full authority to regulate the sale of tobacco products to youth, as well as the marketing and manufacture of these deadly products.