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Study cites progress in curbing tobacco sales to minors

6:21 AM, Aug 27, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- Federal and state efforts to snuff out tobacco sales to minors are working despite a slight rise in those sales between 2011 and 2012, a new report says.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia continue to meet an overall goal of reducing illegal tobacco sales to individuals younger than 18, according to a report out today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

SAMHSA implements the Synar Amendment, which aims to decrease youth access to tobacco. The Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act, enacted in 1992, included the amendment. The Synar Regulation, issued in 1996, requires states and U.S. jurisdictions to enforce laws for prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco to individuals younger than 18. States and U.S. jurisdictions have to conduct random, unannounced inspections of retail tobacco outlets and report findings.

The Synar Amendment program required each state to reduce its retailer violation rate to 20% or less by federal fiscal year 2003.

In federal fiscal year 2012, the national average rate of tobacco sales to minors was 9.1%, the report said. It was the second lowest retailer violation rate in the program's history. Still, it was higher than the 2011 rate of 8.5%.

National Synar program coordinator Susan Marsiglia Gray said, "In the 16 years of existence of the Synar program, states have really made significant progress in reducing tobacco sales to youths." But budget challenges at the state level and the proliferation of smokeless tobacco products might have contributed to the slight increase, she added.

Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the not-for-profit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids based in Washington, D.C., says the program's target rate is" a little outdated." He adds, "I think we can do better than 20%."

In a statement, Frances Harding, director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, agrees that the Synar program has made "remarkable strides." But she adds that "far more needs to be done ... to prevent kids and young adults from using tobacco, which is the nation's leading cause of preventable death."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cigarette smoking causes about one in five deaths in the USA each year.

"Almost 90% of daily smokers first smoke by the age of 18, " Gray says. "We know that if youths are prevented from smoking while they are young, they will be unlikely to begin smoking as adults."

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