Most Retailers Complying with Law Prohibiting Sale of Tobacco to Minors

Highest Rate of Compliance in 10 years; $1.6 Million in Fines Levied

Albany, N.Y. (September 4, 2008) - Nearly 93 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.

Compliance with the law is at the highest rates since the department's Tobacco Enforcement Program began 10 years ago, according to the 2006-2007 Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Program annual report.

"I am very encouraged that retail tobacco sales to underage youth have decreased significantly," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "But since an estimated 90 percent of adult smokers today began smoking as teenagers, we will not be satisfied until all retailers comply with the law."

The Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act requires retailers to obtain positive proof that the person buying cigarettes is over the age of 18. Retailers found in violation of the law are subject to fines. Repeated violations can result in the loss of their tobacco registration and lottery license.

Enforcement measures aimed at making tobacco products less accessible to minors are a part of New York State's comprehensive, $85-million statewide anti-smoking and tobacco control program that also includes media campaigns, cessation assistance, and support for community action.

During 2006-2007, the Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Program reported 37, 814 compliance inspections of tobacco retailers, resulting in more than 2,300 enforcement actions taken for sales of tobacco products to minors and more than $1.6 million in assessed fines. The state retail non-compliance rate of 7.6 percent is the lowest rate ever.

Inspectors conducted nearly 10,000 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.

During the reporting period of October 1, 2006, through September 30, 2007, 608 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 149 lottery agent licenses suspended for six months for multiple sales to minors. This compares with 475 retailer tobacco registration suspensions and 147 lottery license suspensions during the previous year.

During the last 10 years (1997-2007), more than $21.6 million in fines were levied against 29,920 retailers for selling tobacco to minors. Of the 375,968 compliance inspections conducted during that period, 263,050 were conducted with the assistance of minors attempting to purchase tobacco products.

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.

A copy of the Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Annual Report is available on the Department's Web site at: