Nicotine: Legal consequences

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 1:18 pm

Tobacco is a legal substance when purchased and used by adults. Despite widespread efforts to prevent minors from purchasing tobacco, a high proportion continues to do so. All 50 states ban the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 18, but many of the laws are weak and enforcement is generally poor. Various studies demonstrated that 32% to 87% of underage youths were able to purchase cigarettes over the counter.
A growing number of states and localities are imposing penalties, usually in the form of citations, against minors who purchase tobacco products. Less frequently, when the store is cited, the penalty is usually directed against the sales clerk rather than the business owner. The result is that the business owner, who sets store policy and gains financially from the illegal sale, is free from penalty.
A working group of States’ Attorneys General recommended in 1994 that enforcement focus on commercial sellers of tobacco products before targeting the youth users. Most states already require licensing of stores selling tobacco, but the group further recommended unannounced compliance checks and graduated fines and license suspension for repeated sales to minors.

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