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versely, overt failure to implement the youth-access restrictions actually undermines the tobacco-free norm; an unenforced restriction is probably worse than no restriction at all. Unenforced laws convey the message that the intent is not to be taken seriously and thereby undermine school and community attempts to educate youth regarding the serious health consequences of tobacco use…. The message should be strong and unequivocal that tobacco use is unhealthful and socially disapproved. Youth-access laws are an essential part of that message (IOM 1994a).

A reasonably enforced youth-access restriction is an essential element of modern tobacco control efforts, and there is, in fact, widespread agreement among tobacco control activists and public health experts regarding the provisions that should be incorporated in a model law (IOM 1994b). The principal guideposts featured in such a program are as follows:

  • Establish a minimum legal smoking age of at least 18 years

  • Require that retailers establish proof of age by checking identification

  • License tobacco retailers

  • Require periodic assessments of retailers’ compliance

  • Establish administrative or civil law penalties for illegal sales

  • Prohibit self-service displays of tobacco products

One important question is whether the regulation of youth access should be left exclusively to state control, which has been the traditional approach with the exception of the brief period when the FDA’s Tobacco Rule was in force. In the committee’s opinion, the main advantage of federal action in this area is that it provides an opportunity to establish a uniform licensing mechanism for the retail sale of tobacco products. The committee therefore endorses revival of the FDA’s Tobacco Rule, which prescribes minimum requirements for retailers to prevent sales to minors and allows the states to implement more stringent requirements (see Chapter 6).

Whether or not the FDA’s Tobacco Rule is revived, the states should take the following steps to reduce tobacco sales to minors:

Recommendation 11: All states should license retail sales outlets that sell tobacco products. Licensees should be required to (1) verify the date of birth, by means of photographic identification, of any purchaser appearing to be 25 years of age or younger; (2) place cigarettes exclusively behind the counter and sell cigarettes only in a direct face-to-face exchange; and (3) ban the use of self-service displays and vending machines. Repeat violations of laws restricting youth access should be subject to license suspension or revocation. States should not preempt local governments from licensing retail outlets that sell tobacco products.

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