Buying cigarettes today? Better have your ID handy
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Celebrating a milestone in his anti-smoking campaign, President Clinton said rules that went into effect today will help keep cigarettes out of kids’ hands. ``No I.D., no sale,″ he said.
The Food and Drug Administration regulations require retailers to card all customers younger than 27 to thwart mature-looking youths under the legal smoking age of 18. Failure to comply could cost store owners $250.
``Parents must continue to be the first line of defense, but all the rest of us must help,″ including retailers, Clinton said.
``From now on, in every store in America, our children will be told: No I.D., no sale,″ he said.
Retailers predicted longer lines as they checked IDs for customers who buy tobacco 26 million times a day in convenience stores alone. Two tobacco-friendly states _ Virginia and North Carolina _ at first said they would not enforce the new rules, and then said they would.
Besides federal inspectors, stores also had this to worry about: Tobacco foes were sending teen-agers undercover to catch lawbreaking clerks.
``It’s really time to start taking seriously as a nation the sale of tobacco products to young people,″ said FDA Commissioner David Kessler, who was retiring from his post after ushering in the new rules today at a White House ceremony.
Clinton scheduled the event to focus public attention on the regulations. The Democratic National Committee planned to use the announcement to try to turn some of the media heat about campaign fund-raising on the Republicans.
The DNC was preparing an analysis detailing the nearly $6 million GOP campaign committees accepted from tobacco interests for the 1996 campaign. The Democrats, however, also accepted $1 million from tobacco companies.
Even though states already prohibit tobacco sales to anyone under 18, minors purchase $1.6 billion in tobacco annually. Seventy-five percent of teen-age smokers say they have never been carded.
Indiana officials, for example, discovered last summer that 41 percent of stores in the state were selling to minors.
The FDA is contracting with states to send undercover teens to catch lawbreakers. But the agency still has not picked the 10 states that will share the first $4 million in enforcement funds _ meaning federal stings will not happen for at least a month.
So tobacco foes are amassing thousands of volunteers to report suspected lawbreakers to an FDA hot line.
Standing outside a convenience store in Boston today, Lee Chang, 22, took a drag from his cigarette and said he was not carded. But Kim Balin, 23, emerged from another convenience store with a pack of smokes and a dose of annoyance after being carded.
``I kind of feel insulted because I am old enough to drink and smoke if I choose to do so,″ Ms. Balin said.
FDA’s own inspectors could target states that do not perform their own enforcement.
Virginia and North Carolina both oppose the FDA’s crackdown on youth smoking, which later this year will entail advertising and other restrictions, and they joined a tobacco industry lawsuit seeking to block it.
Virginia’s prosecutor’s office initially said it would ignore the new law and North Carolina’s Attorney General Mike Easley said he had no authority to enforce it pending the judge’s ruling. But Virginia Gov. George Allen quickly repudiated his employees and Easley on Thursday acknowledged, ``It is the law.″
The question is how quickly the FDA can begin federal stings nationwide. It has asked Congress for $34 million to hire inspectors in the remaining 40 states this fall, but lawmakers reacted skeptically at a budget hearing Thursday.
``Don’t you think there are enough regulations out there?″ said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, who questioned whether it was wise ``to substitute the federal government for the responsibility of a mother and a father to stop kids from smoking.″
Some states will not notice a big difference today.
In Florida, where aggressive inspectors have caught just 18 percent of retailers selling to minors, lawbreakers simply will pay more _ the $250 FDA penalty plus existing $500 state fines.
Michigan, however, said it wants to enforce the law but cannot until FDA sends money and instructions. Indiana Attorney General Jeffrey Modisett does not expect to start teen stings until May, as he awaits FDA funding to increase the 50 officers who now enforce both alcohol and tobacco rules.
``The federal dollars are the key,″ Modisett said.
The FDA hot line is 888-FDA-4KIDS.