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Study Showing Reduced Tobacco Sales to Kids is Encouraging, But Does Not Show if States Have Corrected Enforcement Problems

Statement by Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 27, 2002

Washington, D.C. — A report released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finds that states are doing a better job of complying with a 1992 federal law, known as the Synar Amendment, requiring the states to enact and enforce laws prohibiting tobacco sales to children. This report is good news if it reflects a real reduction in tobacco sales to kids as a result of better state enforcement of youth access laws. However, the report does not indicate whether the states and SAMHSA have corrected the fundamental flaws in the enforcement of youth access laws identified in a November 2001 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO). The GAO found that many states are achieving artificially low violation rates by using decoy buyers under age 16, who are more likely to be asked for identification, and by using inaccurate and incomplete lists of retailers selling tobacco. The GAO also found that SAMHSA was inadequately verifying state data and compliance.

Youth access laws are a component of a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Effective enforcement of such laws requires frequent, random and unannounced compliance checks using 16 and 17 year-olds, combined with stiff penalties for retailers who violate the law.

Continuing questions about different states using different methods for their compliance checks underscore the need for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products so a single, meaningful standard applies to all states to ensure that tobacco sales to children go down. Legislation to grant FDA this authority has been introduced in both the Senate and House – S. 2626 by Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and DeWine (R-OH) and H.R. 1097 by Reps. Ganske (R-IA), Dingell (D-MI) and Waxman (D-CA). Among other things, these bills would grant the FDA authority to implement stronger and more effective measures to reduce tobacco sales to children.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people every year. Every day, more than 4,000 kids try their first cigarettes; another 2,000 kids become addicted smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.

The GAO report on the Synar Amendment and youth access to tobacco can be found at: