Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Terrific News From Tobacco Retail Inspections in Indiana and Mississippi

Last week the Indiana Tobacco Retailers Inspection Program announced that 96% of tobacco retailers in the state were compliant with laws restricting tobacco products to minors (story here). This is the highest compliance rate since the program’s inception in 2000, when the rate was 59%.

Indiana’s outstanding results are similar to those from FDA compliance checks in Mississippi, announced in early January by the agency (here). Of the 493 Mississippi tobacco retailers that were inspected, only 25 had violations. In other words, 95% of stores in that state are not selling tobacco to minors. This compliance rate is much higher than even a few years ago. To the agency’s credit, FDA issued stern warning letters to the remaining violators.

I have been critical in the past of FDA Center for Tobacco Products actions (here, here and here), but these are positive developments. Point-of-sale is a legitimate place for enforcement actions by state and federal agencies. The FDA indicates that it will expand the compliance checks to all 50 states during the upcoming fiscal year.

Still, these actions will have little impact on major suppliers of tobacco to underage users -- adult friends or relatives who legally purchase tobacco products and then provide them to teens. According to a study published in 2004, (abstract here), 65% of teen smokers obtained cigarettes in just that way. That is probably why the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey found that 75% of 10th graders reported that it was "fairly easy" or "very easy" to get cigarettes.

Stopping underage access to tobacco is a critical national priority, but non-compliant retailers are no longer a significant source for teenagers. This key fact invalidates the allegation by Matt Myers and other zealots that tobacco manufacturers are targeting kids with harm reduction products like dissolvables (here). The allegation is fatuous if children don’t have access to tobacco products.

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