Retail sales of tobacco products to people under 18 are at the lowest level they have been in years, says a report being released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The national rate of tobacco sales to minors for fiscal 2008 was 9.9%, compared with 16.3% in 2002 and 40.1% in 1997. The report also indicates that for the third year in a row, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are in compliance with the Synar Amendment, a federal regulation that aims to reduce young people’s access to tobacco by requiring states to implement laws and other programs that limit the sale of tobacco to minors.
It was named for the late Rep. Mike Synar of Oklahoma, who introduced it as an amendment in 1992.
States that don’t comply with the law may face a 40% reduction in their Federal Substance Abuse and Prevention Treatment Block Grant funding, the report says.
“States are reporting the lowest rate of tobacco sales to youth in the 12 years since the Synar program,” says Susan Marsiglia Gray, National Synar program coordinator. “There has been a substantial reduction in retailers selling tobacco to youth.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, past-month cigarette use for minors ages 12 to 17 has declined from 13% in 2002 to 9.8% in 2007.
To be in compliance with Synar, states have to conduct annual, unannounced inspections of retailers by sending minors into stores to buy tobacco products.
Officials then compute the state’s retailer violation rate based on the number of retailers that sell to minors during the inspections. The 9.9% is the average retailer violation rate of all 50 states and D.C.
Marsiglia Gray says changing social norms surrounding tobacco use by young people have helped bring retailer violation rates down.
“We advocate that in order to actually reduce access to tobacco products, states need to have a comprehensive approach,” she says.
That includes tactics such as designating a specific agency to oversee tobacco control programs.
Though decreasing youth access to tobacco products is important, Marsiglia Gray says, other programs, including smoking cessation and clean indoor air legislation, also are necessary to reduce young people’s use of tobacco products.
Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, applauded the drop in sales to minors but warned about state cutbacks on spending for tobacco control.
“We need to continue this good work and can’t let cuts to state programs undercut this progress,” McGoldrick says.
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