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HHS Releases Regulations on Youth Tobacco Sales


March 1996

On January 19, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the final regulations implementing a law to limit tobacco sales to youth, allowing more time and negotiation for states to comply with the regulations than Congress had anticipated ("Final Tobacco Regulations Give States More Latitude," Substance Abuse Letter, February 2, 1996, p. 1; 61 Federal Register 1492).

Section 1926 of the Public Health Service Act requires states to prohibit tobacco sales to anyone under the age of 18 and to enact measures to encourage retailers to prevent such sales (42 U.S.C. 300x-26). If states do not comply with the federal law, they would be subject to reductions in their grant from the Substance Abuse Block Grant.

These regulations implement a 1993 law ("the Synar Amendment") and are different from pending proposals on youth tobacco sales announced by President Clinton on August 10, 1995 (see "Clinton Approves Unprecedented Measures to Curb Youth Smoking," NewsBriefs, October 1995, p. 14; 60 Federal Register 41314, August 11, 1995). "The final rule being issued [January 19] will complement and be consistent with any rule the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] promulgates, when and if the FDA does so," the rule states. "While this final rule is directed to the States and the FDA proposal focuses on the tobacco industry and retailers, they are both designed to help address the serious public health problem caused by young peoples' use of and addiction to nicotine-containing tobacco products."

The Synar amendment, named for former Rep. Mike Synar (D-OK), requires states to implement procedures such as unannounced inspections of retailers selling tobacco products. States are required to show they have limited tobacco sales to 20 percent of attempts by youths.

The regulations issued on January 19 allow each state to negotiate with HHS to develop goals and compliance dates to reduce sales to youths. The 1993 proposed rule would have required states to comply before receiving FY 1994 funds (unless the state legislature did not meet during FY 1993 or 1994, in which case the state would have had to comply before receiving FY 1995 funds) (58 Federal Register 55156).

HHS softened the time requirement for inspections and compliance after receiving comment from state officials. "The department agrees that additional time is needed by the states to implement an inspection process and make the legislative and procedural changes that may be necessary for effective enforcement of their youth access laws," HHS said in the regulation.

If HHS finds that states are not properly enforcing the law, it can authorize those states to lose 20 percent of their substance abuse grants in 1998, and 30 and 40 percent in subsequent years. The regulation requires states to start inspections of retailers before September 30, 1995. Next year, states must conduct inspections from a statistically-sound sample of attempted purchases by youth.

[If you would like a copy of the regulation, contact the NewsBriefs office. For more information about these regulations, contact Prakash L. Grover, Acting Director, Division of State Prevention Systems, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), Rockwall II Building, 9th Floor, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD, 20857, 301-443-7942.]