Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tobacco Retailer Compliance High, Says FDA Data

The Food and Drug Administration issued a press release on November 10 (here), titled “FDA acts to protect children from illegal tobacco sales.” It advises that “most retail establishments inspected by the FDA have been found to be in compliance with the law” restricting sales of tobacco to minors. The release focused on warning letters sent “to more than 1,200 retailers, the majority of which respond to violations relating to selling tobacco to minors, as part of its ongoing effort to reduce tobacco use among children.”

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg is quoted: “It should worry every parent that 20 percent of U.S. high school students smoke cigarettes…Retailers are vital partners in the FDA’s efforts to prevent tobacco use among kids.”

What the FDA didn’t report is that in most states, retailer compliance is outstanding. I downloaded the raw data from the agency’s website and noted compliance statistics for the available states:

FDA Tobacco Retail Compliance Inspections in 16 States
State Number of Inspections Compliance Rate (%)
Alabama 2,12299
Arkansas 68096
Arizona 81894
Colorado 1,68292
Idaho 32399+
Illinois 95093
Kansas 2,01699+
Massachusetts 2,81396
Maryland 1,47799
Maine 3,13799+
Missouri 1,03388
Mississippi 3,41994
New Jersey 1--
Pennsylvania 1,81394
Tennessee 82996
Washington 1,30593
All 24,41896

Retailers in all states combined showed a 96% compliance rate, with every state except Missouri above 90%. Retailers in Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland and Maine demonstrated compliance rates of at least 99%.

As I noted in an earlier post (here), the principal suppliers of tobacco to underage users are adult friends or relatives, according to a 2004 study (abstract here).

The FDA should continue to monitor retailers, but when it comes to children’s access to tobacco, retailers are clearly not the major problem.

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