State/federal effort to reduce illegal tobacco sales to minors remains effective

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A new report on the Synar Amendment program—a federal and state partnership aimed at ending illegal tobacco sales to minors—shows that all the states and the District of Columbia continue to meet their goals of preventing sales of tobacco to those under age 18.  This report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that only 9.6 percent of inspected retail outlets illegally sold tobacco products to youth at any time in 2013.  That number is significantly below the 20 percent target rate set by the program, and far lower than the highest reported state retailer violation rate of 72.7 percent when the Synar program was established 16 years ago.


“Tobacco use is still the nation’s leading cause of preventable death.  We must do everything we can to deter minors from buying tobacco products,” said Frances Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.  “For the past 17 years, the Synar program has made a real difference in lowering the levels of illegal tobacco sales to minors across the nation.  However, everyone in the community must continue to work together in eliminating these illegal sales.”  


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 and U.S. jurisdictions to create laws and enforcement programs prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco to persons under 18.


Under the regulation implementing the Synar Amendment, states and U.S. jurisdictions must report annually to SAMHSA on their retailer violation rates, which represent the percentage.


For the eighth year in a row, all states met their Synar required goals.  Some highlights:


Ten of the 50 states achieved a retailer violation rate below five percent.


Thirty four states and the District of Columbia achieved a retailer violation rate below 10 percent.


The 2013 rate represents a slight increase in the overall retailer violation rate from the year before (from 9.1 percent in 2012 to 9.6 percent in 2013). One potential contributing factor could be the scaling back of enforcement programs by some states experiencing budget concerns. Another potential factor may be that more states are following SAMHSA’s recommendation to report the full range of tobacco products – especially non-cigarette products like smokeless tobacco. As more retailers include these products in their enforcement efforts, attention to reducing these tobacco sales to minors will increase.


Further information about the Synar program, including a breakdown of retailer violation rates in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories is available at:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

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