PhotoLook out, tobacconists. There's a new cop on the beat that's beginning to enforce federal rules governing sale of tobacco products to minors.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said today it has sent warning letters to 55 tobacco retailers, cautioning them against selling e-cigarettes, e-liquids, and cigars to minors.

New federal regulations make it illegal nationwide to sell e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, and other newly regulated tobacco products to anyone under age 18, both in person and online, and requiring retailers to check photo ID of anyone under age 27. 

“Retailers play a vital role in keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of children and we urge them to take that responsibility seriously,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “It’s clear from these initial compliance checks that there’s a need for strong federal enforcement of these important youth access restrictions.”

During compliance checks at major national retail chains, tobacco specialty stores and online retailers, minors were able to purchase some of these newly regulated tobacco products in a variety of youth-appealing flavors, including bubble gum, cotton candy, and gummy bear.

"Skyrocketing use"

Before the final rule that extended the FDA’s authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, and pipe tobacco, among others, there was no federal prohibition on the sale of these products to children, contributing to skyrocketing use by youth.

Data from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show current e-cigarette use among high school students increased by more than 900 percent between 2011 and 2015, and hookah use also increased significantly during this time. Additionally, data shows that high school boys smoked cigars at about the same rate as cigarettes.

The rule, which went into effect on Aug. 8, contains provisions aimed at restricting youth access.

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