FDA acts to shut down tobacco sales at stores that sell to minors
BY MAGGIE FOX, NBC News
(NBC News) - The Food and Drug Administration says it started action to shut down tobacco sales at eight shops that have repeatedly sold products to kids under 18.
The stores — in New Jersey, Michigan, Missouri, Maryland and Illinois — have 30 days to stop selling tobacco products or appeal, the FDA said.
"The FDA plans to conduct unannounced compliance check inspections during that period to check whether the establishment is complying with the terms of the order," the agency said in a statement.
"Retailers are the first line of defense in preventing the illegal sale of harmful and addictive products like cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to youth," said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products. "These enforcement actions will send a powerful message to all retailers that there are real consequences for repeatedly violating the law."
The agency has gradually been flexing its muscles in regulating tobacco. Congress gave the FDA power to regulate tobacco — but not to ban it — in 2009.
The FDA's first official action didn't come until 2014, when it ordered a company to stop selling cigarette-like products called bidis.
It has also proposed rules restricting sales of electronic cigarettes to adults 18 and over and told makers last month that they couldn't label their products as "natural."
The retailers include a mini-market in Newark, a pub in Baltimore and a gas station in Columbia, Missouri.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, praised the action.
"The FDA's actions put retailers on notice that that there are serious consequences to selling tobacco to kids and that tobacco sales to kids will not be tolerated," Myers said in a statement.
"FDA should be applauded. It is one of the strongest actions the FDA has taken to protect our nation's youth."
The FDA can fine retailers if they're caught once or a few times selling tobacco products to minors. It starts with a $500 fine and escalates to $11,000 for an outlet with six or more violations within four years.
"While progress has been made in reducing the burden of tobacco use on the nation, each day in the U.S. more than 2,600 youth under age 18 smoke their first cigarette, and nearly 600 become daily cigarette smokers," the FDA said.
"Additionally, results of the National Youth Tobacco Survey show an estimated 4.6 million middle and high school students currently used a tobacco product in 2014. One of the ways the FDA combats youth tobacco use is through its compliance and enforcement efforts, including encouraging retailer compliance and taking action when violations occur."