State Health Department Levies Over $1 Million in Fines Against Retailers for Selling Tobacco to Minors
Nearly 28,000 Compliance Checks Results in 5,043 Enforcement Actions Against Retailers
Albany, November 17, 1999 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H. today released the Department's annual Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Program Report noting that more than $1 million in fines were levied against 5,043 retailers for tobacco sales to minors from October 1997 to September 1998.
The report represents the first in a series of New York State Department of Health (DOH) publications to be issued annually under Governor George E. Pataki's aggressive, hard–hitting compliance inspection program to stamp out smoking among New York's youth. The Health Department expects to release the second annual report in this series in the Spring of 2000.
"Under Governor Pataki, New York State is doing more than ever to combat teen smoking, including an aggressive tobacco enforcement campaign," Dr. Novello said, "An increase of more than 700 percent in compliance checks this year over last demonstrates that the enforcement campaign is working and that New York State has taken a lead role in the fight to discourage teens and adolescents from smoking."
The tobacco enforcement campaign is part of the State's nearly $20 million – highest funding in State history – tobacco control program which includes a statewide media campaign; partnerships with local governments to ensure retailers are not selling tobacco products to minors; partnerships with local youth organizations; and smoking cessation initiatives covered by the State's Medicaid program.
As part of the Governor's tobacco control program which targets teens, 20,942 of the total 27,972 retailer compliance inspections conducted in the first year were done with the assistance of minors attempting to purchase over–the–counter tobacco products. The overall number of inspections performed in 1997–98 represents a 700 percent increase in the checks performed prior to the Governor's initiative in 1997, when 3,749 checks were conducted.
"Reducing access to tobacco products is an important part of protecting the health of our young people," said Dr. Novello. "I am proud of the work of Department staff, and local enforcement agents, to meet this challenge."
James Calvin, President of the New York State Association of Convenience Stores said, "The sharp increase in compliance checks has made it abundantly clear to retailers that society will not tolerate underage tobacco purchases. We have gotten the message, and we have responded by stepping up our efforts to train store personnel in underage sales prevention. Through education, supervision, and technology, retailers are striving to fulfill their commitment – a commitment we share with Governor Pataki and all New Yorkers – to keep cigarettes out of the hands of our kids."
In both the 1997–98 and 1998–99 program years, for the first time in New York State, over $2 million was allocated as part of the State's youth anti–smoking campaign to assist counties and local enforcement officials in their efforts to ensure retailers are not selling tobacco products to minors.
Among other findings in the Department's annual report:
- More than one million dollars levied against retailers for the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors in the first year of the program.
- More than 3,600 retailers and vending machine owners were reported to the State Department of Taxation and Finance for lack of required registration to sell tobacco products.
- More than 150 local enforcement officers were trained by the State Health Department to use new inspection forms and protocols.
- The State Health Department awarded a two–year, $500,000 grant award to a merchant association representing tobacco retailers to educate retail vendors about the law.
In 35 counties and New York City, local government performs compliance checks. In the remaining counties, State Health Department district office staff performed the inspections. Tobacco retailers are required by law to be registered with the State Department of Taxation and Finance. A retailer's failure to register may result in a maximum fine of $1,000. Sales to underage minors can result in a $300 fine for a first violation, up to $1000 for subsequent violations, and loss of registration for three violations in two years, or four violations ever.
Dr. Novello said, that while the State has made significant progress in combating youth access to tobacco products, the report recommends additional measures that would strengthen current Public Health Law in prohibiting sales to minors.
Those recommendations include:
- Clarify responsibility for control of vending machine sales: In facilities where persons less than age 18 are allowed, it is recommended that the facility operator verify proof of age before machine purchase, consistent with other retail facilities.
- Clarify responsibility for sales to underage youth from vending machines: This recommendation would allow for enforcement actions to be taken against the owner of the facility where the vending machine is located rather than the owner of the vending machine, if they differ.
- Circumventing one–year registration suspension: Under current law, a simple name change or entity location allows a violator with a suspended registration to continue selling tobacco products. It is recommended that the law be changed to eliminate this loophole.
- Fines: It is recommended the Public Health Law be amended to increase fines for the sale of tobacco to a minor, from $100 – $300 for a first offense to $500 – $1,000. The fine for a subsequent offense should be increased from $100 – $1,000, to a minimum fine of $1,000, with a $10,000 maximum, identical to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fine schedule.
"With tobacco being the single highest cause of death and disease in New York State, I will continue to work with the Governor on enforcement initiatives to prevent tobacco sales to minors and plan to introduce new initiatives aimed at stamping out the use of tobacco products by New York's youth," Dr. Novello concluded.