Tobacco use continues to be a significant public health concern and a leading cause of preventable death in the US. Though we have made some great strides, nearly 20% of high school students reported using tobacco products in 2016, including e-cigarettes, and the US Surgeon General estimated that nearly 6 million children will die prematurely in adulthood if current trends continue. Further, in 2015, nearly 2 million people smoked cigarettes for the first time and nearly 90% of cigarette smokers first try smoking by age 18.
Because of the addictive nature of nicotine, experimentation or initiation of tobacco use among youth and young adults is particularly troubling. This is a critical period for growth and development, one during which the brain may be especially susceptible and sensitive to the effects of nicotine. Retailers of tobacco products and electronic smoking devices play an important role in limiting youth initiation and continued usage of tobacco products.
To effectively curb the high rates of access to tobacco products by youth in the retail setting, adequate retail licensure is necessary. Strong tobacco retail licensure provides standards for retailers of tobacco products and electronic smoking devices in order to ensure the minimum legal sales age is being enforced, that applicable local, state, and federal laws are being followed, and where applicable, taxes are being accurately collected.
In 2019 the President signed into law legislation making the legal sales age for tobacco products 21. Now, states must ensure state laws are updated to be consistent with the federal law and provide for successful implementation and enforcement. This will help keep tobacco products away from our kids, preventing lifelong tobacco addiction.
The American Heart Association Advocates
The American Heart Association recommends that in order to be effective, the following elements must be included in tobacco retail licensures:
- An annual license fee that is high enough to cover the cost of enforcement and compliance.
- Clear process to establish requirements to apply for a license.
- Minimum of one compliance check per store per year, with a mandatory recheck for compliance failures.
- Escalating monetary compliance check failure penalties paid by the retailer, with a license suspension of at least 15 days by the third offense, and license revocation by the fourth offense within at least a two-year period.
- No criminal or monetary penalties for youth use and possession.
- Penalty for selling tobacco products with out a license.