State Health Department Fines New York's Retailers $3.6 Million for Tobacco Sales to Minors

ALBANY, June 09, 2006 - State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. today released the State Health Departments 2004-05 Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Report. The latest report shows that 39,522 compliance checks were conducted statewide in the eighth year of the program, resulting in 3,585 fines totaling $3.6 million against retailers for tobacco sales to minors.

During the reporting period, a total of 152 tobacco retailer's registrations to sell tobacco products were suspended by the New York 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 38 Lottery agent licenses suspended for six months for multiple sales to minors.

Dr. Novello said, "Over the years, Governor George Pataki has made a tremendous commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles for our children, including efforts to prevent youth access to cigarettes and other tobacco products through our surveillance and outreach initiatives. Today, New York has one of the most aggressive youth tobacco prevention programs in the nation with more than 30 community partnerships and 46 youth action programs working together to promote anti-tobacco initiatives across the state."

In the eight years since the program began, a collective total of 297,704 retailer compliance inspections have been conducted statewide with more than 205,085 performed with the assistance of minors attempting to purchase over-the-counter tobacco products. These compliance inspections resulted in enforcement actions against 24,403 retailers and more than $17.4 million in assessed fines.

It is important to note that the 2005 Annual Independent Evaluation of New York's Tobacco Control Program found significant declines in adult and youth cigarette use statewide in 2004. The report also noted a steady decrease in the public's exposure to second-hand smoke; and, specifically, a reduction in the prevalence of high school students smoking cigarettes statewide – representing steeper declines than national trends show in these areas.

The evaluation specifically showed that cigarette use among high school students declined from 27.1 percent to 18.5 percent from 2000 to 2004 (an overall decline of 32 percent), while nationally the high school smoking rate dropped more gradually from 28 percent to 20.3 percent (an overall decline of 27.5 percent over the same five-year period.)

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

The civil fine structure is imposed in the following way:

  • Fines for first-time violators who sell cigarettes or other tobacco products to individuals under the age of 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.

Under the Governor's leadership, New York State has undertaken a comprehensive, $85 million statewide anti-smoking and tobacco control effort, which includes:

  • Support for school-based tobacco prevention programs;
  • Creation of the largest anti-tobacco advertising program in state history;
  • Promotion of smoking cessation services;
  • Support for a statewide tobacco Quit Line 1-866-NY QUITS (1-866-697-8487)
  • Advertising aimed at adult smoking cessation;
  • Advertising to highlight the dangers of secondary smoke;
  • Coverage of prescribed and over-the-counter smoking cessation products; and
  • Enforcement of youth access laws and the New York State Clean Indoor Air Act.

Youth Access - Tobacco Enforcement Program Annual Report October 1, 2004 - September 30, 2005 (PDF 820KB, 143pg.)

Second Annual Independent Evaluation of New York's Tobacco Control Program (PDF, 1.75MB, 364pg.)