Policy Factsheet

Enforcement of Tobacco Sales Laws

Reasons for Policy

  • Controlling access to tobacco is an established strategy for reducing consumption.1
  • Poor compliance with tobacco sales laws is well documented.1
  • Despite declining trends, 78% of 10th graders say they find it ‘fairly easy’ or ‘very easy’ to get cigarettes.1
  • In 2006, of those underage students who tried to buy cigarettes in a store in the previous 30 days, approximately half had been asked for proof of age.1

Community Groups

  • Law Enforcement
  • Local Government
  • Local Health Department
  • State Government

Policy Components

  • Active enforcement of sales laws directed at retailers
  • Periodic unannounced compliance checks
  • Citations for retailers that sell tobacco to minors

Desired Outcomes

  • Reduce illegal sales of tobacco to minors
  • Reduce access to tobacco by minors
  • Reduce tobacco consumption

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 1: Evidence-Based Policies Meeting Criteria for Effectiveness.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

  • Active enforcement of laws prohibiting sales of tobacco to minors reduces the sale of cigarettes to youth2
  • Enforcement or warnings generally had an effect on retailer behavior, but compliance requires regular enforcement and there is reduced effectiveness with less occurrences of enforcement.1

Community Examples

Local law enforcement in Kern County and Bakersfield, California conduct undercover illegal tobacco sales stings.

Oviedo, Florida, Oviedo Police Community Response Team conduct compliance checks for underage tobacco sales.

Links to Policy Examples

Cal Bus & Prof Code, Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act, §§ 22950 – 22963 (2011)

Kern County, California- Code of Ordinances, ch 8.60, Tobacco Retailer’s Permit

Fla. Stat. § 569.12 Jurisdiction; tobacco product enforcement officers or agents; enforcement


1 Stead, LF, Lancaster, T (2005). Interventions for preventing tobacco sales to minors. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 1, CD001497.

2 Forster, JL, Widome, R, & Bernat, DH (2007). Policy interventions and surveillance as strategies to prevent tobacco use in adolescents and young adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 33(6S), S35-S339.

3 Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.