The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced it has taken action against 55 tobacco retailers by issuing the first warning letters for selling newly regulated tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, e-liquids and cigars, to minors. These actions come about a month after the FDA began enforcing new federal regulations making it illegal nationwide to sell e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, and other newly regulated tobacco products to anyone under age 18 in person and online, and requiring retailers to check photo ID of anyone under age 27, among other restrictions.
"We're helping protect the health of America's youth by enforcing restrictions that make it illegal to sell tobacco products to minors - including e-cigarettes, e-liquids and cigars. Retailers play a vital role in keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of children and we urge them to take that responsibility seriously," said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products. "It's clear from these initial compliance checks that there's a need for strong federal enforcement of these important youth access restrictions."
During compliance checks at major national retail chains, tobacco specialty stores and online retailers, minors were able to purchase some of these newly regulated tobacco products in a variety of youth-appealing flavors, including bubble gum, cotton candy and gummy bear.
Before the final rule that extended the FDA's authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco, among others, there was no federal prohibition on the sale of these products to children, contributing to skyrocketing use by youth. Data from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show current e-cigarette use among high school students increased by more than 900 percent between 2011 and 2015, and hookah use also increased significantly during this time. Additionally, data show high school boys smoked cigars at about the same rate as cigarettes. The rule, which went into effect on Aug. 8, allows the FDA to protect future generations from the dangers of tobacco use through provisions aimed at restricting youth access.
As part of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA closely monitors retailer compliance with federal tobacco laws and regulations and takes corrective action when violations occur. The agency, on its own or through contracts, conducts inspections in 56 states and territories. When violations are found, the agency generally issues warning letters before it pursues enforcement actions, including civil money penalties and no tobacco sale orders. Since 2009, the FDA has conducted more than 660,000 inspections of tobacco product retail establishments, issued more than 48,900 warning letters to retailers for violating the law and initiated more than 8,290 civil money penalty cases.
The FDA's tobacco compliance and enforcement program works to ensure that industry and retailers follow existing laws designed to protect public health. To help retailers of tobacco products understand how to comply with federal regulations, the FDA provides compliance education and training opportunities to retailers.
Consumers and other interested parties can report a potential tobacco-related violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, including sale of tobacco products to minors, by using the FDA's Potential Tobacco Product Violation Reporting Form.