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ROCKVILLE, Md. -- More than a year after the Food and Drug Administration began its tobacco retailer compliance inspections, the agency took to the web to clear up any questions about the process still lingering in retailers' minds.
In the "What to Expect During a Tobacco Retailer Inspection" webinar this afternoon, Swati Kabaria, with the Office of Compliance and Enforcement for the Center for Tobacco Products, stressed that the compliance checks are aimed at regulated tobacco products -- which at this point only includes cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. To date, she added, cigars and electronic cigarettes do not fall under FDA regulated tobacco products.
In the case of FDA compliance checks, a retailer covers any establishment that sells regulated tobacco products -- from convenience stores to newsstands -- or any facility where a vending machine or self-service display is present.
Compliance check inspections are unannounced and in most cases, Kabaria explained, a retailer will not even know that an inspector is in the establishment. During a compliance check inspection a minor, under the supervision of at least one inspector, will attempt to buy cigarettes. The inspector will then be checking to see if the clerk verifies, by photo ID, the age of anyone under 27 years old and that the clerk does not sell regulated tobacco products to anyone under 18 years old, she said.
"The law does not include exemptions for family members or a customer that a retailer knows is of age," she noted.
Some states like New Jersey, Utah and Alabama have set the legal age to buy regulated tobacco at 19 years old, so retailers need to be aware of the laws in the state where they operate, Kabaria added.
Inspectors will also be looking to make sure retailers are not giving away free samples of cigarettes, are not breaking open cigarette or smokeless tobacco packages to sell smaller amounts, are not selling single cigarettes and are not selling cigarette packs with less than 20 cigarettes.
In addition, of the establishments that have a vending machine or self-service display, the inspector will be checking to see that no minors are allowed inside. According to the regulations, no one under 18 years old is allowed inside an establishment with a vending machine or self-service display at any time, she said.
There are times inspectors identify themselves; however, the inspectors will not let the retailer know if any violations have occurred, she said. The inspectors submit their findings to the FDA which then makes the final determination on violations.
The webinar was the latest in a series of webinars hosted by the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.