Illegal Tobacco Sales to Youth on the Decline

A new report released by SAMHSA shows that the national weighted average rate of illegal tobacco sales to youth is 8.5 percent, the lowest rate reported since the inception of the Synar program. The Synar program requires States to enact and enforce laws restricting the sale of tobacco products to youth. The report also shows that the number of States reporting low rates of illegal tobacco sales to youth has increased. In FY 2011, 34 States achieved a retailer violation rate (RVR) below ten percent and 12 achieved a RVR below five percent.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of death and disease in the United States, with 443,000 deaths annually attributed to smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke (CDC, 2008). Nearly all tobacco use begins during youth and young adulthood. In fact, among adults who have ever smoked daily, 88 percent report that they first smoked by the age of 18, with 99 percent reporting that they first smoked by the age of 26. Furthermore, more than one-third of adults who have ever smoked report trying their first cigarette by the age of 14 (USDHHS, 2012). These data suggest that if youth are prevented from smoking while they are young, they will be unlikely to begin smoking as adults.

In July 1992, Congress enacted the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act (P.L. 102- 321), which includes the Synar Amendment (section 1926) aimed at decreasing youth access to tobacco. The amendment requires States to enact laws prohibiting any manufacturer, retailer, or distributor from selling or distributing tobacco products to any individual under age 18. The implementing regulation requires states to enforce these laws in a way that can reasonably be expected to reduce the illegal sale of tobacco products. States must also conduct annual, random, unannounced inspections of tobacco outlets to ensure compliance with the law and to determine the RVR. States that do not comply with the requirements are subject to a penalty of 40 percent of their Federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) funding.
In addition to decreasing the illegal rate of tobacco sales to youth, the Synar program has also contributed to a decline in the percentage of youth smokers who report getting their tobacco products from retail sources. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), in 1995, 38.7 percent of students under the age of 18 who were current smokers reported that they usually got their own cigarettes by buying them in a store or gas station. In 2009, this percentage had dropped to 14.1 percent (CDC, 2009). At the same time, tobacco use among youth has declined. According to YRBS, the percentage of students reporting current cigarette use dropped from 34.8 percent in 1995 to 19.5 percent in 2009. While this drop is not attributable to the Synar program alone, the Synar requirements have contributed to a culture change in which youth tobacco use is discouraged. The full report can be found at:
Other SAMHSA Tobacco-related activities:

The post above is reprinted with permission from the SAMHSA blog.

Updated: August 13 2012