Synar Amendment Implementation: Quality of State Data on Reducing Youth Access to Tobacco Could Be Improved

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A letter report issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "Every day, about 3,000 young people become regular smokers. It is estimated that one-third of them will die from smoking-related diseases. If children and adolescents can be prevented from using tobacco products they are likely to remain tobacco-free for the rest of their lives. In 1992, Congress enacted legislation, known as the Synar amendment, to reduce the sale and distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18. States are required to enforce laws that prohibit tobacco sales to minors, conduct random inspections of ... continued below

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United States. General Accounting Office. November 7, 2001.

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A letter report issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "Every day, about 3,000 young people become regular smokers. It is estimated that one-third of them will die from smoking-related diseases. If children and adolescents can be prevented from using tobacco products they are likely to remain tobacco-free for the rest of their lives. In 1992, Congress enacted legislation, known as the Synar amendment, to reduce the sale and distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18. States are required to enforce laws that prohibit tobacco sales to minors, conduct random inspections of tobacco retail or distribution outlets to estimate the level of compliance with Synar requirements, and report the results of these efforts to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Synar amendment and regulation are the only federal requirements that seek to prohibit the sale and distribution of tobacco products to minors. GAO found that weaknesses in the states' implementation of Synar and in HHS oversight may be adversely affecting the quality and comparability of state-reported estimates of the percentage of retailers that violate laws prohibiting tobacco sales to minors. First, some states used inaccurate and incomplete lists of over-the-counter and vending machine tobacco outlets from which to select samples for inspection, which affect the estimated statewide violation rate. Second, states allowed the use of minors younger than 16 as inspectors, even though research suggests that using such minors can artificially lower violation rates. Third, HHS approved a few states' reported violation rates even though the rates included inspection results that were invalid because of the ages of the inspectors and the outcomes of the inspections were unknown. Fourth, HHS relied on states to validate their own inspection results with limited verification of the accuracy of state data even though the potential reduction in a state's block grant award for not meeting annual violation-rate goals could be an incentive for states to report artificially low rates. A little more than half the states reported for fiscal year 1999 that they used fines and suspension or revocation of retailers' licenses to penalize violators of youth tobacco access laws as part of their enforcement strategy. States also reported issuing warning letters and citations. HHS requires states to report evidence of actions taken to enforce state laws but does not require the use of penalties as an enforcement tool. Research shows that penalties reduce minors' access to tobacco products."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • November 7, 2001

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  • June 11, 2014, 5:03 a.m.

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United States. General Accounting Office. Synar Amendment Implementation: Quality of State Data on Reducing Youth Access to Tobacco Could Be Improved, report, November 7, 2001; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc292736/: accessed November 12, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.