Tobacco sales to minors at record low

Tobacco sales to minors fell to an all-time low in 2010 after increasing in 2009, a new report shows

Retailers in the USA sold tobacco to minors 9.3% of the time, the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows. The statistics are gathered as part of the Synar Amendment program, a federal-state partnership to curb tobacco sales to minors. The 2010 rate of 9.3% is the lowest in the program’s 14-year history.

“It’s really good to see the rate go down, especially after it went up last year,” says Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

In addition, 34 states had violation rates of less than 10% in 2010, up from 22 states in 2009.

Violations increased in 14 states, despite the national downward trend. Idaho, Maryland and New Hampshire, states with some of the highest rates of violations, saw rates increase from 2009.

The record low follows an uptick in tobacco sales to minors that occurred in 2009, where 10.9% of retailers had violations. The increase was the first in the program’s history. It was also the highest rate since 2005.

Susan Marsiglia Gray, Synar coordinator for SAMHSA, says a tough economy led some states to make cuts to underage tobacco enforcement programs, which may have helped lead to the increase in underage sales.

Gray attributed a return to sales decreases in 2010 in part to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed by President Obama in 2009. Under the act, the FDA helps states conduct compliance checks of retailers. Gray also says some smaller outlets, which may have been more likely to sell to minors, have gone out of business.

The statistics are gathered through random, unannounced inspections of retail outlets. Under the Synar program, states must have a violation rate of 20% or less to be in compliance. The year 2010 marked the fifth year all states have been in compliance.

Though states have been in compliance for several years, efforts to decrease actual tobacco consumption by minors has stalled, Gray says. Minors may not be able to buy tobacco from retailers, but older siblings and friends still can. While taking away minors’ retail access to tobacco is an important part in lowering consumption, it’s not the only thing needed.

“States really need to take a comprehensive approach in reducing youth tobacco use,” Gray says.

States with a low rate of violations tend to attack the issue at several levels, including merchant education and community pressure. Parents also play an important role. “We know one of the best ways to affect kids is to affect adults,” McGoldrick says.

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