A considerable number of states and localities currently license tobacco sales outlets. The weak enforcement of youth-access laws in many states, however, suggests that the potential deterrent threat of license suspension or revocation is not being realized. States should adopt a graduated penalty scheme whereby initial offenses are tied to fines but repeat violators face license suspension and revocation. Wherever possible, enforcement authority should reside in a public health agency.
The age verification requirement of the above recommendation follows the mandate contained in the FDA’s 1996 Tobacco Rule and should be regarded as a baseline for effective monitoring of compliance. As recommended by the IOM committee in 1994 the FDA’s 1996 Tobacco Rule set the federal minimum age requirement for the purchase of tobacco products at 18 years, but left the states free to adopt more stringent regulations, including adopting a minimum age of purchase higher than 18 years. The committee favors that approach, which would be effectuated by the proposed Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (discussed in Chapter 6). Although raising the minimum purchase age on a national basis would stretch the law too far from social reality, states should be permitted to experiment with a 21-year-old minimum age requirement for the purchase of tobacco products.
The remainder of the recommendation fills two gaps in the MSA. The MSA failed to adopt the behind-the-counter mandate prescribed by the FDA’s 1996 Tobacco Rule. Placing product displays behind the counter not only prevents shoplifting, largely by youths, but also tends to reduce the likelihood of spontaneous impulse purchases. Similarly, the MSA failed to address the problem of youth access to vending machines, leaving it to the states to enact restrictions. This self-service mode of access to tobacco is an open invitation to violation of the proscriptions on underage sales. In view of the unlikely prospect of adult-only venues being closely policed for potential violations, the committee’s strong recommendation would be for an outright ban on vending machine sales of cigarettes. The FDA’s 1996 Tobacco Rule endorsed limiting such machines to adult-only facilities, and the 1994 IOM report Growing Up Tobacco Free similarly endorsed a ban and cautiously qualified an absolute prohibition by stating that “less restrictive alternatives to a complete ban should be adopted only if shown to be effective” (IOM 1994a).
The committee reaffirms all of the specific recommendations pertaining to youth access recommended by the IOM in 1994, including requiring sales units to contain at least 20 cigarettes (thereby banning so-called kiddie packs or “loosies”) and making it an offense for an adult to purchase tobacco products for a minor.