The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced it is issuing its first warning letters to retailers for the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors in violation of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act). Using state inspectors who have been commissioned by the agency, the FDA visited 493 different retail establishments in Mississippi over the past three months and issued 25 warnings.

Mississippi was the first state to participate in the FDA’s State Enforcement Program, which got underway in the summer of 2010 and is designed to help enforce many provisions of the Tobacco Control Act and implementing regulations. The FDA established the program in 2010 and currently a total of 15 states have been awarded contracts to carry out inspections. A list of retail establishments found to be in violation of the law, as well as those which have been inspected and where no violations were observed, can now be found on the FDA’s website.

“Retailers play a role in protecting our kids from becoming the next generation of Americans to die prematurely from tobacco-related disease,” said Lawrence R. Deyton, M.S.P.H., M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “We are providing retail establishments with the information needed to comply with the law. However, if inspectors identify violations, the FDA will take swift actions to protect young people.”

Rules which limit the sale, distribution and marketing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to protect the health of children and adolescents took effect on June 22, 2010. And, in order to help enforce these rules, the FDA awarded contracts to 15 states to assist in inspecting retail establishments that sell cigarettes and/or smokeless tobacco products.

“The goal of the State Enforcement Program is to improve public health through effective tobacco product regulation,” said Ann Simoneau, director of compliance and enforcement, Center for Tobacco Products, FDA. “We truly appreciate Mississippi’s strong commitment to assist the FDA in enforcing the Tobacco Control Act and our new regulations.”

“Mississippi takes the health risks of smoking very seriously,” said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. “Our inspectors are out in the field every day, doing their part to prevent youth access to cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.”

During these compliance check inspections, officials are observing whether the retailers comply with various aspects of the law, including whether the retailer:

* sells a tobacco product to a minor;

* requests proper identification;

* sells prohibited flavored cigarettes or individual cigarettes; and

* has self-service displays, like vending machines, which can be accessed by minors.

In fiscal year 2011-2012, the FDA plans to award enforcement contracts to all states and U.S. territories to assist with enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act.