WASHINGTON – A new federal regulation requiring states to enforce laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors should not pose a problem for Maryland, one official said.
“I think this is going to be a reasonable expectation on the state of Maryland. I think everyone is of similar mind on this,” said Joan Stine, director of the Office of Health Promotion, Education and Tobacco Prevention for the state Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.
The new regulation, published Friday in the Federal Register, requires states to conduct random, unannounced inspections of tobacco vendors to make sure they aren’t selling to minors. States must develop a strategy and time frame for compliance by more than 80 percent of the vendors accessible to young people.
The new regulation was put in place because a 1992 law passed by Congress forbidding the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 18 wasn’t being enforced. Congress never outlined procedures for enforcement.
Federal funds for substance abuse prevention and treatment could be cut for states that don’t comply with the tobacco regulation.
Maryland is scheduled to receive more than $26 million for drug and alcohol abuse programs in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 1996, Smith said. If the state does not comply with the tobacco regulation within a reasonable amount of time, it could lose up to 40 percent of the grant, or $10.4 million.
“Are we at risk of losing our funds? … I think that is in the realm of worst-case scenario,” Stine said. “I think the feds are willing to work with us to get it done, as opposed to going after us in a punitive way.”
Maryland hopes to reduce teen tobacco use through education, using institutions such as schools and churches, said Barbara Smith, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. “The state’s role will be to work within the community – with parents and children,” she said.
Stine said the random checks required of businesses will most likely be done by the state Health Department.
Maryland has a law carrying a penalty of up to $3,000 for businesses repeatedly found guilty of selling tobacco products to minors. But Stine said she knows of no cases in which merchants have been charged.
Minors caught buying or possessing cigarettes may be fined $25 and sentenced to community service, under the Maryland provision. Minors have been fined, Stine said.
No one knows how frequently Maryland minors are sold cigarettes, Smith said. It is known, she said, that vending machines are one of the easiest ways for minors to buy cigarettes.
The state Health Department has never sought to monitor children purchasing tobacco, Smith said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated 255 million packs of cigarettes were sold in 1991 to minors in the United States – at a profit of $190 million to the cigarette industry. The agency estimates that youths have a 73 percent success rate in buying tobacco over the counter and a 96 percent success rate when buying from vending machines. -30-