FDA warns Mass. stores to stop selling tobacco to minors

The US Food and Drug Administration announced this morning that it recently issued more than 1,200 warning letters to convenience stores, cafes, and other establishments for violating laws relating to the sale of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to minors. Some 99 retailers in Massachusetts received letters over the past year warning them that financial penalties would ensue if they “continued to violate the law” which prohibits the sale of such products to anyone under 18. Some could also lose their license to sell tobacco or have their inventory seized.

“It should worry every parent that 20 percent of US high school students smoke cigarettes,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg in a statement. “More than 80 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before 18 years of age. Retailers are vital partners in the FDA’s efforts to prevent tobacco use among kids.”

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products, allowing them to conduct surprise inspections at tobacco retailers to see if they are in compliance with the law. Contractors hired by the agency have conducted more than 27,500 compliance checks since the law was passed.

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Three retailers in Boston were caught violating the law during these inspections. Downtown Convenience on Boylston Street in Chinatown received a warning letter from the FDA in August specifying that one of their employees “sold a package of Newport Box cigarettes to a minor on May 21, 2011 and failed to verify by means of photographic identification that the minor was 18 years of age or older.” Brothers Mini Market and One Stop Convenience, both on Tremont Street, also received letters for selling to minors.

Other retailers, like Hunt’s Mobil in Marlborough, were cited for “failure to sell cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in a direct, face-to-face exchange.” These stores have self-service displays containing tobacco products that allow consumers to handle them before their age is verified through an ID check. Such displays are only allowed in places that ban minors from entering the store.

Related news: Mass. regulators consider tobacco sale ban in pharmacies