State Health Report: Tobacco Retailers are Complying with the Law

Prohibiting Sales to Minors; Highest Compliance Levels Ever

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 31, 2009) - Nearly 92 percent of retailers who sell tobacco are complying with the law that forbids the sale of tobacco products to youth under the age of 18, according to a new State Health Department report released today.

Compliance with the law is at the highest rates since the enforcement program began 11 years ago, according to the 2007-2008 Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Program annual report.

"This report shows that preventing and reducing access to tobacco by our youth is key to further reducing New York's youth smoking rate, which is now at 14.7 percent," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "There are 389,000 children alive today who will die prematurely from smoking, and more than a half-million New Yorkers currently suffer from serious smoking-caused diseases, at a cost of $8.17 billion in health care expenditures annually."

The Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act requires retailers to obtain positive proof that the person buying cigarettes is 18 years of age or older. Retailers found in violation of the law are subject to fines. Repeated violations can result in the loss of their tobacco registration and New York Lottery licenses. Enforcement measures aimed at making tobacco products less accessible to minors are a part of New York State's comprehensive, $68-million statewide anti-smoking and tobacco control program that also includes media campaigns, cessation assistance, and support for community action.

During 2007-2008, the Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Program reported 38,630 compliance inspections of tobacco retailers, resulting in more than 2,400 enforcement actions taken for sales of tobacco products to minors and more than $1.4 million in assessed fines.

Inspectors conducted nearly 10,000 additional visits to determine compliance with required signage about the law, to educate retailers, to verify vending machine supervision and location compliance, and to investigate complaints, requirements and state Department of Taxation and Finance registration requirements.

The report shows that 256 tobacco retailers' registrations were suspended from selling tobacco products by the state Department of Taxation and Finance for six months during the reporting period of October 1, 2007, through September 30, 2008. There were also 85 Lottery agent licenses suspended for six months for multiple sales to minors. This compares with 603 retailer tobacco registration suspensions and 149 lottery license suspensions for the previous year indicating the high compliance rate.

During the last 11 years, more than $20 million in fines were levied against 32,559 retailers for selling tobacco to minors. Of the 414,798 compliance inspections conducted during that period, 292,414 (70 percent) were conducted with the assistance of minors attempting to purchase tobacco products.

"Tobacco use and dependence is the leading preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in New York State and nationally. Cigarette use alone results in an estimated 438,000 deaths each year nationwide, including 25,500 deaths in New York State," Commissioner Daines said.

Civil 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 Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Annual Report is on the DOH Web site at: