Tobacco Retailers Warned Over Illegal Sales of Newly-Regulated Products to Minors
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Tobacco Retailers Warned Over Illegal Sales of Newly-Regulated Products to Minors

Federal law prohibits selling products like e-cigarettes, cigars, and hookah tobacco to anyone under 18

September 16, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters to 55 tobacco retailers for selling newly-regulated tobacco products to minors.

It is illegal to sell products such as e-cigarettes, cigars, and hookah tobacco to consumers under the age of 18 either in person or online, and retailers are required to check the photo ID of consumers under the age of 27. The FDA has been enforcing these new regulations for roughly one month.

"We're helping protect the health of America's youth by enforcing restrictions that make it illegal to sell tobacco products to minors – including e-cigarettes, e-liquids and cigars. Retailers play a vital role in keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of children and we urge them to take that responsibility seriously," said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products. "It's clear from these initial compliance checks that there's a need for strong federal enforcement of these important youth access restrictions."

In those compliance checks, minors were able to buy some of the newly-affected tobacco products in several flavors that would appeal to youth, such as bubble gum, cotton candy, and gummy bear. The checks took place at major national retail chains, tobacco specialty stores, and online retailers.

Prior to the passage of these regulations, the sale of these products to minors was legal and contributed to their skyrocketing use of the products. Data collected by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that usage of e-cigarettes among high school students rose drastically by more than 900 percent between 2011 and 2015, while the use of hookahs also significantly increased during that time. Data also indicate that male high school students smoke about as many cigars as cigarettes.

Under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA keeps a close watch over whether or not retailers comply with federal tobacco laws and regulations, and it takes corrective action when the retailers violate them. It performs inspections, either itself or via contracts, in 56 states and territories. When it finds a violation, it usually issues a warning letter before pursuing enforcement actions such as civil money penalties and no tobacco sale orders. Since the passage of the Act in 2009, the agency has performed more than 660,000 tobacco product retail establishment inspections, issued more than 48,900 warning letters for violations, and begun more than 8,290 civil money penalty cases.

The FDA designed and implemented a tobacco compliance and enforcement program to ensure that the tobacco industry and its retailers follow laws designed for the protection of public health. It provides retailers with compliance education and training opportunities to help them understand how to comply with the laws.