The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act does not solve the problem of illegal tobacco sales to minors. There are several gaps in the Tobacco Control Act, and in many ways, it is actually weaker than existing California law.
For one thing, the federal penalties for illegal sales to minors are weaker than California’s penalties. Also, the restrictions in the Tobacco Control Act currently apply only to cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products—they do not apply to little cigars or other tobacco products that are aggressively marketed to youth. Furthermore, although the provisions in the federal law prohibiting cigarette sales to minors have already taken effect, enforcement of these provisions is not yet being carried out in every state. The FDA will contract with states to enforce the law, but when it does, only the provisions of the federal law will be enforced through the contract; FDA enforcement will not ensure compliance with stronger state and local laws.
Fortunately, communities can address these deficiencies because the Tobacco Control Act explicitly allows state and local governments to pass laws that are stricter than the federal law and would apply to all tobacco products.
Some communities have achieved this through local tobacco retailer licensing (TRL) laws. A strong TRL law can be a tool for comprehensive enforcement of the federal, state and local tobacco laws and can ensure that compliance checks occur in all the stores in your community.
We have developed model language for a tobacco retailer licensing law for California cities and counties. In addition, we drafted supplementary “plug-in” provisions, which provide additional policy solutions. For more information, see our page on Tobacco Retailer Licensing.