The FDA says it's looking to retailers to help enforce the sweeping tobacco regulations that took effect June 22.
"We understand the retailers really are on the front lines and are the key piece to making this a success," said Kathleen Quinn, the acting director of communications for the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA. "Our approach is they are our partners and we want to equip them with the tools they need."
So here's what you, the retailers, need to know about FDA tobacco regulations. Retailers already have years of experience checking ID and banning tobacco sales to anyone under 18. But the FDA has taken prevention further.
- Remember to check ID for any customer younger than 27 years old.
- All tobacco sales must be made face-to-face. That means no vending machines. It also means that all displays of cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco must be kept behind the counter.
- Do not break packs up into smaller quantities. No sale of "loosies," or cigarettes in packs with fewer than 20.
- Do not sell T-shirts, ball caps, mugs, key chains or other items promoting tobacco products.
- No free samples of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco.
Quinn said that the FDA is reaching out to retailers through direct mail, web, training, podcasts and Twitter and yes, even text messages. The FDA has named its retail campaign "Break the Chain of Addiction" and offers free posters, badges and other material to retailers to post in their stores.
The FDA rules took effect June 22 but Quinn said that enforcement could take some time to fully put in place. So far the FDA has awarded contracts to Maine, Massachusetts, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee to enforce federal regulations in those states. The FDA will award contracts in three more regions later this summer. It will handle its own enforcement in states that did not win contracts.
The federal law spells out a fines and penalties schedule for retailers who are found in violation, which includes an opportunity for retailers to receive a reduced civil money penalty, if the retailer trains employees using an FDA "approved training program."
In its draft guidance on Tobacco Retailer Training programs, the FDA indicates it intends to issue regulations in the future on the standards for an "approved training program." In the interim, the FDA announced that it will apply the reduced civil money penalty schedule whether or not a retailer has implemented a training program.
Perhaps even more importantly, "FDA may consider further reducing the civil money penalty for retailers who have implemented a training program." FDA's draft guidance outlines requirements and recommendations for what they refer to as an "effective training program." With minor adjustments to its current We Card training curriculum, We Card will soon launch an updated version for the nation's retail community. Quinn said that the FDA is familiar with the We Card program and other training programs. "We don't want to duplicate or confuse," she said.
Retailers will notice changes in packaging required of tobacco manufacturers. Beginning June 22, tobacco companies were no longer allowed to make cigarettes labeled "light," "low," or "mild." The ban on distributing those cigarettes takes effect July 22. Quinn said that the FDA understands that it may take some time for retailers to sell their inventories, but after that they will need to explain to customers that "mild," "low" and "light" cigarettes are banned. "Ideally we would like the sell-off to go quickly, but if they are still on the shelves they are allowed to sell them," Quinn said.
Tobacco companies are also required to label smokeless tobacco with one of four health warnings. Beginning July 22, tobacco companies will not be allowed to distribute smokeless tobacco products that do not carry the health warning. Again, the FDA recognizes that it may take retailers time to sell their inventories.