The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that all the states and the District of Columbia have continued to meet their goals of curtailing sales of tobacco to underage youth (those under 18). However, in federal fiscal year 2009, for the first time ever, the data show a slight increase in the average national rate of tobacco sales to underage youth of about one percent. States goals, set under the Synar Amendment program – a federal and state partnership, are aimed at ending illegal tobacco sales to minors.
The Synar Amendment (introduced by the late Representative Mike Synar of Oklahoma and enacted as Section 1926 of the federal Public Health Service Act) requires states to have laws and enforcement programs for prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco to persons under 18. The program is part of SAMHSA’s Strategic Initiative on promoting emotional health and preventing substance abuse and mental illness.
Under the regulations implementing the Synar Amendment, states and other jurisdictions must report annually to SAMHSA on their retailer violation rates, which represent the percentage of inspected retail outlets that sold tobacco product to a customer under the age of 18.
Over the last 13 years, data reported by states has indicated a clear downward trend towards reducing tobacco sales to minors. However, in federal fiscal year 2009, the average national retailer violation rate of tobacco sales to minors has increased from a historic low of 9.9 percent in 2008 to a rate of 10.9 percent in 2009.
– In 2009, 43 of the 51 states and Washington, D.C. achieved rates below 15.0 percent, down from 46 states in 2008, and
– Twenty-two (22) of the 51 achieved rates below 10.0 percent, down from 26 states in 2008.
These rates continue to stand in sharp contrast with the situation 13 years ago at the Synar program’s inception when the highest reported retailer violation rate was 72.7 percent. According to the report, reasons for the slight increase in violation rates may include the cutbacks in state enforcement programs due to the economy and budget reductions.
“Today’s report shows that we need to continue to be vigilant in our efforts, including providing adequate attention and resources, to continue the hard-earned progress we have made over the past 13 years in reducing youth access to tobacco products, “said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “Tobacco use often goes hand in hand with behavioral health problems. At SAMHSA we are putting into place programs that address the common set of risk and protective factors contributing to a range of mental, physical, and behavioral problems including alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use.”
In order to sustain the declines in tobacco sales to minors, SAMHSA is working closely with states to determine ways to fund enforcement, including the use of local tobacco licensing to help fund enforcement. Additionally, Congress included a provision in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on June 22, 2009, that has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the extent feasible, contract with states to carry out inspections of retailers in connection with the enforcement of the Act, including enforcement of the new Federal youth access regulations. The FDA is expected to begin contracting with states to enforce these laws this summer (2010).
The Synar Amendment supports the national Healthy People 2010 objective to reduce the illegal sales rate to minors through enforcement of laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors.