State Health Department Releases Newest Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Report

3,200 Fines Levied to Stop Tobacco Sales to Minors

Albany, N.Y., August 9, 2007 - Nearly $2.6 million in fines were assessed during the past federal fiscal year against retailers who sold tobacco to minors, state Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., announced today.

Commissioner Daines released the state Health Department's 2005-06 Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Annual Report, which documents significant statewide accomplishments – including more than 40,000 compliance inspections of tobacco retailers, resulting in 3,200 fines statewide, and a retailer non-compliance rate of 10 percent, the lowest in the nine years since the inspection program began.

During the reporting period of October 1, 2005 through September 30, 2006, 475 tobacco retailers' registrations to sell tobacco products were suspended by the state Department of Taxation and Finance for six months as a result of multiple enforcement actions for selling tobacco to underage youth. There were also 147 lottery agent licenses suspended for six months for multiple sales to minors. These figures have increased significantly from the prior year (152 retailer license suspensions and 38 lottery license suspensions) due primarily to rigorous enforcement of the Public Health Law and an accumulating points system for violators.

"New York has no tolerance for retailers who break the law by selling tobacco to underage youth," Dr. Daines said. "The temptation to make a short-term profit by selling cigarettes to kids should be squashed by knowledge of the law and the realization that these sales lure young people into a dangerous addiction. Stop selling tobacco to kids. No excuses."

In the nine years since the program began, 338,154 retailer compliance inspections have been conducted statewide with more than 234,975 performed with the assistance of minors attempting to purchase over-the-counter tobacco products. These compliance inspections resulted in enforcement actions against 27,618 retailers and more than $20 million in assessed fines.

State law prohibits the sale of tobacco products to minors. The law requires specific government-issued proof of age to purchase tobacco and herbal cigarettes, and establishes a system whereby tobacco retailers are assigned points for each illegal sale of tobacco to a minor.

Civil fines are imposed in the following way:

  • Fines for first-time violators who sell cigarettes or other tobacco products to individuals under age 18 are set at a minimum of $300 and a maximum of $1,000. Fines for repeat violators are $500 to $1,500.
  • Retail dealers who sell tobacco products while their registration is suspended or revoked face a fine of $2,500 and permanent revocation of their registration to sell tobacco.

The point system is imposed as follows:

  • Two points are accumulated for each violation, except when the retailer can demonstrate that the seller completed a state-certified tobacco sales training program, in which case only one point is accumulated.
  • Retailers assigned points will be subject to at least two re-inspections annually, until the points are removed.
  • Acquiring three or more points within a three-year period will lead to a six-month suspension of the retail dealer's state Department of Taxation and Finance registration to sell tobacco, and if they are also a lottery agent, their lottery license.

New York state has a comprehensive, $85 million statewide anti-smoking and tobacco control effort, which includes:

  • Support for community partnerships working to de-normalize tobacco use and promote a tobacco-free norm;
  • Support for youth action programs involving youth throughout the state in the anti-tobacco movement;
  • Use of comprehensive tobacco education and media campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco use and secondhand smoke;
  • Promotion of the provision of treatment for tobacco use and dependence through the health care system;
  • Support for a statewide tobacco Quit Line 1-866-NYQUITS (1-866-697-8487);
  • Surveillance and evaluation activities designed to assess, quantify and understand the impact of the tobacco control program; and
  • Enforcement of youth access laws and the New York State Clean Indoor Air Act.
  • Scientific research on programmatic efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use and the effectiveness of state statutes to address tobacco use.

A copy of the Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Annual Report is available on the Department's Web site at www.health.ny.gov/prevention/tobacco_control/docs/tobacco_enforcement_annual_report_2005-2006.pdf .