Reducing illegal tobacco sales to minors to an all-time low

A new report on the Synar Amendment program — a federal and state partnership aimed at ending illegal tobacco sales to minors — shows that all the states and the District of Columbia have continued to meet their goals of curtailing sales of tobacco to underage youth (those under 18). The report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) which sponsors the Synar program shows that the average national retailer violation rate of tobacco sales is down to 9.3-percent — the lowest level in the 14 year history of the program.
The Synar Amendment (introduced by the late Representative Mike Synar of Oklahoma and enacted as Section 1926 of the federal Public Health Service Act) requires states and U.S. jurisdictions to have laws and enforcement programs for prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco to persons under 18. The program is part of SAMHSA’s strategic initiative on preventing substance abuse and mental illness.
Under the regulation implementing the Synar Amendment, states and U.S. jurisdictions must report annually to SAMHSA on their retailer violation rates, which represent the percentage of inspected retail outlets that sold tobacco products to a customer under the age of 18.
Over the last 14 years, data reported by states and the District of Columbia has indicated a clear downward trend towards reducing tobacco sales to minors. The exception was in FY2009 when the average national retailer violation rate of tobacco sales to minors increased from 9.9-percent in FY2008 to a rate of 10.9-percent. In FY2010, however, the downward trend returned as the national average rate decreased significantly to 9.3- percent.
For the fifth year in a row no state was found out of compliance with the Synar regulation — in fact:
  • In FY2010, 47 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia achieved non-compliance rates below 15-percent, up from 43 states in FY2009, and
  • Similarly, 34 of the 50 states achieved non-compliance rates below 10-percent, up from 22 states in FY2009.
These rates continue to stand in sharp contrast with the situation 14 years ago at the Synar program’s inception when the highest reported state retailer violation rate was 72.7-percent.
“This report brings welcome news about the measurable progress states have made in reducing illegal sales of tobacco to minors,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “Reducing access to tobacco products is only one part of the equation. Progress in reducing actual tobacco use among young people has stalled. Putting into place new prevention efforts that reach youth in meaningful ways can go a long way toward eliminating the health risk of tobacco use.”
According to the report, although the cutbacks in state enforcement programs due to the economy and budget reductions may have put the effectiveness of some state programs in jeopardy a number of other factors may have helped sustain and strengthen them.
One important factor was the enactment of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on June 22, 2009. Under this law the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contracts, to the extent feasible, with states and U.S. territories to carry out compliance check inspections of retailers in connection with the enforcement of the Act including enforcement of the new Federal youth access regulations. To date, FDA has entered into contracts with 15 states and is expected to continue contracting with others in the months to come.
SAMHSA and FDA continue to collaborate to ensure that their programs work effectively together to help reach the shared goal of eliminating sales of tobacco to underage youth.
The FY2010 Annual Synar Reports: State Compliance, which includes compliance rates for each of the states and the District of Columbia, as well as a section on compliance rates for the U.S. Jurisdictions, is available at For related publications and information, visit
For more information about the FDA’s regulations restricting the sale and distribution of tobacco products to youth, visit:

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