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FDA reportedly poised to ban menthol cigarettes

With expected tobacco company resistance, the ban could take years to implement

It’s been talked about for years, and now the government may be ready to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes.

A citizen’s group has filed a petition in federal court to require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to institute such a ban, and the FDA has to reply by today. Citing “people familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports that the FDA will announce a ban.

Anti-smoking groups have long targeted menthol cigarettes over claims that they promote smok...

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    Pro-tobacco videos continue to rack up views on YouTube

    Experts are worried about the videos reaching a younger audience

    As Youtube continues to fight against the spread of misinformation, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania explored how tobacco-related videos continue to make their rounds around the popular video streaming service. 

    The researchers explained that viewers continue to see videos promoting the positives of tobacco use or vaping. Considering the number of young people who regularly use YouTube, and the misleading statements evident throughout the videos, this has become a serious issue. 

    “The easy access of such [video] material suggests that YouTube is a fertile environment for the promotion of tobacco products despite its banning of tobacco advertising,” the researchers explained

    Pushing boundaries

    The researchers evaluated several different search criteria on YouTube to understand what kind of effect these videos are having on viewers. 

    Their work revealed that viewers can easily access videos on any number of topics related to tobacco, including how to properly use tobacco, “fun ways” to utilize tobacco, or even how to vape. These videos receive millions of views, and some even suggest that any negative health effects related to tobacco use can be mitigated, though there is no scientific backing to support any of these claims. 

    This is particularly concerning considering how prevalent the dangers associated with vaping have become and how many young people have taken up the habit. 

    “This suggested to us that the misleading tobacco videos we identified on YouTube are part of the information environment that eludes the restrictions that apply to regular tobacco advertising and product promotion,” said researcher Patrick E. Jamieson. 

    Not only are these videos misleading, but they also go against YouTube guidelines that prohibit tobacco advertisements. Moreover, they serve as a source of income for those posting them and for YouTube. 

    “As our study of YouTube illustrates, producers of misleading tobacco content can primarily represent private individuals rather than tobacco manufacturers,” said researcher Dan Romer. “Indeed, the producers of the tobacco videos we identified...do not appear to be employees of the tobacco industry, it is nevertheless possible that a content creator could receive endorsement payments from a tobacco company.” 

    Telling the true story

    According to the researchers, the best way to combat these videos is with the truth. It’s crucial that consumers are getting the right information. 

    On platforms like YouTube where these videos are most prevalent, setting up ads or videos with content that debunks these misleading messages is key to setting the record straight. 

    As Youtube continues to fight against the spread of misinformation, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania explored how t...
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    FDA approves sale of two low-nicotine cigarette products

    The agency says the new products could reduce nicotine dependence and addiction

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today that it is approving the sale of two new tobacco products that have lower amounts of nicotine than traditional cigarettes.

    The agency says that the products -- which are manufactured by 22nd Century Group Inc. -- meet its standards and could potentially help curb nicotine dependence and addiction rates in adult smokers. However, it makes clear that the products still carry many of the same health risks that commercial cigarettes do.

    “While today’s action permits the new tobacco products to be legally sold or distributed in the U.S., it does not mean these products are safe of ‘FDA-approved,’” the FDA said in its announcement. 

    “In its decision, the agency notes that the Moonlight and Moonlight Menthol cigarette products differ from conventional cigarettes in nicotine content only -- the products share similar adverse health risks as conventional cigarettes. There are no safe tobacco products and those who do not use tobacco products should not start.”

    Preventing marketing to youth users

    In a press release, the FDA says that the new products should not be attractive to youth users. But with that in mind, it says that it will be placing “stringent restrictions” on how the products are marketed online and on social media platforms. 

    The manufacturer will also be required to regularly report to the FDA about any information it collects through research studies, sales data, and other avenues so that the agency can respond accordingly if young people start using the products. 

    “The FDA may withdraw this marketing order if, among other reasons, it determines that the continued marketing of a product is no longer appropriate for the protection of public health, such as if there is an uptake of the product by youth,” the FDA stated.

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today that it is approving the sale of two new tobacco products that have lower amounts of nicotine than t...
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    CDC calls out Juul and others for driving increase in teen tobacco use

    Rising teen vaping rates have caused a spike in tobacco use among teens, health officials say

    Federal health officials say the sharp increase in the use of vaping devices among teens has caused a significant spike in the number of teens using traditional products.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday released its annual National Youth Tobacco Survey. The survey found that the number of high school students using tobacco products, which include e-cigarettes, rose by about 38 percent.

    The survey revealed that more than 1 in 4 high school students and about 1 in 14 middle school students used a tobacco product in 2018.

    Threatens to undo past progress

    The CDC said the ongoing rise in vaping among teens threatens to undo past progress in reducing rates of tobacco use among minors.

    "The skyrocketing growth of young people's e-cigarette use over the past year threatens to erase progress made in reducing youth tobacco use. It's putting a new generation at risk for nicotine addiction," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

    Products manufactured by Juul have been shown to be especially attractive to minors because they come in fruity flavors such as mango, mint, and fruit and creme. Kids and teens who use e-cigarettes could be more likely to start smoking tobacco, the CDC said, citing previous research on the subject.

    In a statement, Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the survey results were “deeply troubling.”

    “They add to mounting concerns that the rise in youth use of e-cigarettes, especially Juul, is vastly expanding the number of kids addicted to nicotine, could be leading kids to and not away from cigarettes, and directly threatens the decades-long progress our nation has made in reducing youth smoking and other tobacco use,” Myers said.

    Trends that require ‘unprecedented action’

    The FDA shares the CDC’s concerns about the alarming surge in e-cigarette use among teens. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has described the issue as an “epidemic” and repeatedly called for e-cigarette manufacturers like Juul to step up their efforts to combat youth use of their products.

    On Monday, Gottlieb expressed concern that e-cigarette manufacturers may be reneging on vows they made last year to counter teen use. In January, the FDA warned that e-cigarettes could be pulled from the market entirely if youth use continues to rise.

    "These trends require forceful and sometimes unprecedented action among regulators, public health officials, manufacturers, retailers and others to address this troubling problem," Gottlieb said in a statement.

    Juul’s Senior Director of Communications Victoria Davis has maintained that the company is “committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products.”

    Federal health officials say the sharp increase in the use of vaping devices among teens has caused a significant spike in the number of teens using tradit...
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    FDA may begin process of banning menthol cigarettes

    The agency says the mint flavoring makes it easier to start smoking and more difficult to quit

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is prepared to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, a report from The Wall Street Journal has suggested.

    The latest report follows another report last week which suggested that the agency’s Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is planning to announce new restrictions on the sale of some flavored vaping products in an effort to curb use among teens.

    Senior agency officials with knowledge of the matter told the Journal that Gottlieb may be looking to move forward with a process to have menthols banned as part of the FDA's crackdown on teen vaping.

    Popular among young people

    In 2013, a study concluded that menthol cigarettes were associated with an increase in use among young adults. The study found that the percent of young people who smoked non-menthol cigarettes declined, while menthol smoking rates increased.

    The authors said the results of the study raised concerns that menthols are being marketed as a “starter product” for younger consumers.

    “Our findings indicate that youth are heavy consumers of mentholated cigarettes, and that overall menthol cigarette smoking has either remained constant or increased in all three age groups we studied, while non-menthol smoking has decreased,” said lead researcher Dr. Gary Giovino, professor at the University at Buffalo.

    “Simply stated, menthol sweetens the poison, making it easier to smoke. Young people often think menthol cigarettes are safer, in part because they feel less harsh,” Giovino said in a statement.

    The same year, the FDA also said that menthol cigarettes pose a larger health risk to the public than traditionally-flavored brands because they tend to be more difficult for users to quit.

    The process of finalizing a ban on menthols would reportedly take a year or longer and another year after that for the ban to be enforced, according to the Journal.

    Gottlieb has stated that the FDA is currently trying to control "epidemic" levels of teens using e-cigarettes.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is prepared to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, a report from The Wall Street Journal has suggested.The...
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    Smoking rate in the U.S. at record low

    But other methods of consuming nicotine are on the rise

    Just 13.9 percent of adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes last year, according to a government report released Tuesday.

    The new figures represent a decrease from previous years and indicate that the American smoking rate has reached “the lowest level ever recorded.”

    In 2016, nearly 16 percent of adults aged 18 and over smoked cigarettes, according to a previous survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 1965, more than 40 percent of U.S. adults smoked cigarettes.

    Experts say public health campaigns have helped to raise awareness of the dangers of the addictive habit, helping to drive down the overall number of smokers in recent decades.

    Twice as many smoke in rural areas

    The first effort to raise awareness about the adverse health effects of smoking cigarettes was made in 1964, when the Surgeon General released the first government report linking smoking with certain diseases.

    However, anti-smoking campaigns like these tend to reach more city-dwellers than rural adults. Just 11 percent of adults in a metro area of one million people or more smoke, compared to nearly 22 percent in rural areas, the CDC report said.

    Adults in rural areas also "had the highest rates of being obese, having experienced serious psychological distress during the past 30 days, or having diagnosed diabetes," according to the report.

    Swapping smoking for vaping

    Vaping is now the most common method of consuming nicotine among both high school and middle school students, according to the CDC. Around 12 percent of high schoolers used e-cigarettes in 2017, compared to about 3 percent of U.S. adults as of 2016.

    Experts say the decrease in the number of cigarette smokers represents a major public health success. However, federal health officials are now facing the challenge of how to regulate e-cigarettes.

    Although e-cigarettes are touted as products to help adults quit cigarettes, health experts are hesitant to promote e-cigarettes as healthier alternatives to traditional cigarettes. Some evidence has shown that e-cigarette use can lead to other forms of tobacco use among youth, and researchers are still trying to gain a clear understanding of the health effects of vaping.

    "Yes, vaping doesn't have the high levels of tar and soot that are the major contributors to the cigarette lung cancer risk," Dr. Adam Lackey, chief of thoracic surgery at Staten Island University Hospital, told HealthDay News.

    "But you are still inhaling heated chemicals into your body. And you are still getting nicotine, which in and of itself is not particularly healthy, aside from the addiction standpoint."

    With the number of young adult vapers on the rise and the health effects of the practice still being studied, the FDA has ramped up its efforts to crack down on youth access to e-cigarettes.

    Just 13.9 percent of adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes last year, according to a government report released Tuesday. The new figures represent a dec...
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    Smoking linked to 40% of U.S. cancer diagnoses

    Meanwhile, the number of smokers continues to fall

    Since the 1964 Surgeon General's report that linked cigarette smoking to cancer, we have known of tobacco's corrosive effects on health.

    But just how corrosive is it? A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests as many as 40% of all cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. may have a tobacco link.

    While tobacco use is most closely associated with lung cancer, the reports cites evidence that it also causes cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, and rectum, and a type of leukemia, known as acute myeloid leukemia.

    In short, the report's authors conclude that avoiding tobacco use is the best way to prevent the disease, which affected about 660,000 people in the U.S. from 2009 to 2013, killing more than half.

    Another way of looking at it, since 1990 about 1.3 million cancer deaths linked to tobacco have been avoided because either people quit smoking or never started in the first place. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says that should just be a start.

    Preventable deaths

    "There are more than 36 million smokers in the U.S.," Frieden said. "Sadly, nearly half could die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, including six million from cancer, unless we implement the programs that will help smokers quit."

    But progress has been coming faster in recent years. In a separate CDC report, health officials note that cigarette smoking among U.S. adults has dropped more than 20% from 2005. From 2014 to 2015, there was a 1.7% drop, resulting in the lowest number of adult smokers since the government began collecting data in 1965.

    Cigarette smoking surged in the years after World War II, some say encouraged by the fact that every GI's rations included a pack of cigarettes. As viewers of the hit series “Mad Men” saw, cigarettes were a ubiquitous part of American life in the 1960s. In 1965, the CDC estimates more than 42% of Americans were smoking.

    Currently, the CDC estimates 16.8% of U.S. adults still smoke cigarettes, leading to more than $300 billion in annual health care costs.

    Since the 1964 Surgeon General's report that linked cigarette smoking to cancer, we have known of tobacco's corrosive effects on health.But just how co...
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    How homes of former smokers could be hazardous to your health

    Researchers found that tobacco pollutants remain in the home for at least six months after a smoker has quit

    Although giving up on smoking is a crucial first step towards improving a person’s health, a new study shows that health hazards from the habit persist long after the last pack has been thrown out.

    Researchers from San Diego State University have found that the smokers’ homes remain polluted by thirdhand smoke (THS) for at least six months after they have quit. THS is made up of minute tobacco particles that penetrate various surfaces in the home – like carpets, upholstery, pillows, blankets, clothes, wallpaper, and ceiling tiles.

    “We tend to see smoke in the air and then it’s out of sight out of mind. But it leaves compounds in indoor environments that can do harm to our bodies, especially children, and sometimes we cannot see or smell it,” said lead author George E. Matt.

    Pollutants stick around

    The researchers came to their conclusions after conducting a six-month study on tobacco smoke pollutants found in the homes of 90 former smokers. They measured home surfaces, dust, and the fingers of the former smokers for THS pollutants at five different intervals to see if levels went down over time.

    The data showed that levels of nicotine had a significant short-term reduction on household surfaces and on participants’ fingers, but levels found in dust did not change much over the six-month period. Urine tests also revealed that urinary cotinine levels, which measure exposure to tobacco, were still detectable at the study's conclusion. 

    This suggests that residents were still being exposed to tobacco pollution long after they quit, which could have long-term negative impacts on their health.

    The researchers say that further study will be needed to fully understand the consequences of continued THS exposure. More work will also need to be done to figure out how to remove THS from the home so that it doesn’t become a health issue.

    The full study has been published in the journal Tobacco Control.

    Although giving up on smoking is a crucial first step towards improving a person’s health, a new study shows that health hazards from the habit persist lon...
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    The extra risks of using smokeless tobacco products

    Researchers find bacteria that cause infection and illness

    It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers associated with smokeless tobacco products, which include substances ranging from chewing tobacco to dissolvable pills and gums.

    They say that these tobacco delivery methods also carry bacteria that can cause infection and lead to illness. And, as with most kinds of bacteria or pathogens, prolonged exposure increases the risk to the person using these products.

    “Some species have been identified as causative agents in spice-related outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting. Additionally, they produce a mild toxin which, in large quantities could cause illness,” said Steven Foley, coauthor of the study.

    Health risks

    The researchers found several bacteria that could be a cause for concern among consumers. Bacteria from the Bacillus species are known to cause the intestinal discomfort described above by Foley, but other bacteria from the Stapphylococcus species could be even more troubling.

    These bacteria, which include Stapphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus hominus, could turn nitrates found in the body into nitrities, which could lead to potentially carcinogenic formations.

    Part of the reason that these bacteria are able to pose so much danger to people is due to the way in which smokeless tobacco products are consumed. Those using the products tend to hold them in their mouth for long periods of time so that the nicotine can enter the bloodstream. This increases the amount of time that consumers are exposed to bacteria.

    The practice is especially dangerous to those who have developed gingivitis or other oral health issues, which can be common for smokeless tobacco users. Researchers say that some of the bacteria present in these products can easily enter the bloodstream in these consumers and cause dangerous heart valve infections.

    Informing policy decisions

    Up to this point, not much data had been collected on the microbial threats present in smokeless tobacco products. The researchers hope that their work will help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration form policies around the production and distribution of these substances so that consumers can avoid some of the dangerous health risks.

    The full study has been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

    It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers assoc...
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    Cigar smokers aghast at FDA regulation of tobacco

    Proposed new rules could spell trouble for many small cigar stores

    Cigar smokers have for years felt beleaguered. Their spouses make them smoke outside, bars and restaurants increasingly show them the door, their cardiologists berate them mercilessly, and the U.S. government makes them go through silly charades to smuggle in the Cuban cigars they cherish.

    The smoke cleared briefly when President Obama visited Cuba and began the process of restoring diplomatic relations. But then, back home, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week issued a proposed new 499-page rule that gives it authority over tobacco sales, including cigars. 

    "As you can imagine, this is a pretty tough day for a lot of us who are passionate about cigars," said Anthony Welch, proprietor of CigarsCity.com.

    The FDA's proposed rule would require manufacturers to go through a certification procedure to demonstrate that their product is properly labeled and fits within whatever specifications are established for each type of product -- traditional cigarette, e-cigarette, etc. It also set the minimum smoking age at 18.

    Although established brands will not have to go through the certification process, the rule will make it difficult to introduce new products and create especially thorny problems for mom-and-pop tobacconists.

    Health concerns

    The stated goal, of course, is to keep young people from taking up the tobacco and nicotine habits and to get a handle on the rapidly growing e-cig market, which health advocates like the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) argue is a gateway to addiction.

    "Giving FDA authority over all tobacco products is a good thing," said Dr. Kenneth Michael Cummings, Professor, Hollings Cancer Center, Medical University of South Carolina, and member of IASLC's Tobacco Control and Smoking Cessation Committee. "It clears up a loophole in the original law that excluded products like cigars."

    The National Cancer Institute also takes a stern view of cigar and pipe smoking, warning on its Cancer.gov site: "There is no safe level of tobacco use. People who use any type of tobacco product should be encouraged to quit."

    But Welch and other premium cigar aficianados say they shouldn't be lumped in with the types of tobacco products that appeal to teens. 

    "Most of our customers are older than 40. In fact, our median customer is 55," Welch said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "While we carry some small cigars (cigarillos) the majority of what is being bought at sites like ours are $5-$10 per cigar. I don’t think anyone would argue that’s a price-point that’s appealing to underage smokers."


    Perhaps those most in peril from the new rule are the tobacconists who roll their own cigars and sell them to a select clientele. Check the commuter train stations around New York City and you'll find a surprising number of hole-in-the-wall shops that cater to Wall Streeters who duck in regularly to load up on their favorite custom-rolled smokes. 

    The Miami area is also dotted with boutique cigar stores, many claiming to have ready access to Cuban-grown tobacco. When full relations with Cuba are restored, the tobacco may be legal but it's hard to see how these mom-and-pop purveyors will be able to create a legally saleable product.

    "In my opinion, it’ll be very difficult for that independent cigar shop to not only jump through the FDA hoops to get their blends approved but also the costs associated with the testing," Welch said.

    Then again, it's possible the FDA will devote its resources to e-cigarettes, cigarillos, and other products before getting around to cigars, giving cigar connoisseurs at least a brief respite.

    "The FDA now has the authority to regulate the manufacturing elements of the products, such as ingredients, the introduction of new products, and more. The devil is in the details of how the FDA will do this, but presumably it will base actions on a continuum-of-risk basis, addressing the most dangerous products and practices first," Dr. Cummings said in a news release.

    In the long run the only tobacconists likely to avoid the new regulations are those in Canada and elsewhere who now clandestinely sell supposed Cuban cigars to U.S. consumers via the Internet.

    Cigar smokers have for years felt beleagured. Their spouses make them smoke outside, bars and restaurants increasingly show them the door, their cardiologi...
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    Despite declining smoking rates, tobacco firms doing just fine

    Tobacco sales overseas are booming

    In that bygone era, when cigarette advertisements were everywhere, Camel had a campaign that asked, “are you smoking more but enjoying it less?”

    As anyone who watched episodes of Mad Men knows, everyone seemed to be smoking a lot during the 1960s. But those days are over.

    Cigarette marketing is tightly limited by a court settlement and, not surprisingly, Americans are smoking less. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which keeps track of cigarette sales in the U.S., reports the number of cigarettes sold by the major tobacco companies to U.S. wholesalers and retailers fell from 267.7 billion in 2012 to 256.7 billion in 2013.

    Advertising less

    Tobacco companies also spent less on advertising and promotion during that time. Marketing dollars dropped from $9.17 billion to $8.95 billion. Much of the decline was linked to a reduction in discounts retailers and wholesalers received in order to reduce the price of cigarettes to consumers.

    The FTC report shows that tobacco companies trimmed their discounts by about $2 million.

    If it looks like tobacco companies are withering away, they aren't. Stock in tobacco companies remains strong on Wall Street. The tobacco companies have simply found ways to diversify and adapt.

    First, American tobacco companies have looked beyond U.S. borders. Smoking is declining in the U.S. but overseas – particularly in the developing world – it's a different story.

    According to The Tobacco Atlas, decades of scientific and medical evidence linking smoking to cancer and other health issues has done nothing to deter about one billion people world-wide from lighting up.

    More international smokers

    “The decline in smoking rates in high-income countries is more than offset by increased tobacco use in middle- and low-income countries,” the Atlas authors write. “Tobacco companies know they must find replacement smokers, and focus much of their effort in these low- and middle-income markets, which have the potential for economic and demographic growth, and thus increased profits.”

    Tobacco companies have also moved more heavily into smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette products. The FTC report advertising spending for smokeless tobacco products bucked the trend, actually increasing from 2012 to 2013.

    At the same time, tobacco companies sold 125.5 million pounds of smokeless tobacco in 2012, then boosted it to 128.0 million pounds in 2013. In all, smokeless tobacco revenue rose by $180 million.

    In that bygone era, when cigarette advertisements were everywhere, Camel had a campaign that asked, “are you smoking more but enjoying it less?”As anyo...
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    Fewer New York shops ask for ID when selling cigarettes

    Study finds compliance fall-off after tougher law goes into effect

    New York City enacted a law in 2014 that raised the minimum age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. The law was aimed at reducing smoking rates, especially among young people.

    A law, of course, is only as effective as its enforcement. And researchers at NYU and UCLA have found that compliance with identification (ID) checks has significantly decreased since the law went into effect last year.

    Before the law changed, researchers say 29% of retailers sampled were non-compliant. After the change, 38% of sampled retailers failed to ask for ID when selling cigarettes to young people.

    Researchers also examined new minimum price laws for cigarettes and found a similar pattern.

    Troubling pattern

    "This study reveals a troubling pattern of non-compliance with ID check and minimum price laws among some retailers in New York City," said lead author, Dr. Diana Silver, an associate professor of public health policy at NYU's College of Global Public Health. "Without serious attention to strengthening enforcement of its current laws, New York City will fail to realize the full potential of its efforts to reduce smoking."

    There could be several reasons for the lack of enforcement. For one thing, a lot of retailers might still be unaware that the age limit has risen.

    Researchers note the new law did not go into effect until nine months after its enactment.

    Multiple jurisdictions

    Then, there's the fact that enforcement measures for retailer tobacco laws involve five different city and state agencies. Researchers say they all have unique protocols, and in many cases no additional resources were allocated for inspection, prosecution, and follow-up of those violating the new laws.

    Under federal law, states are required to make sure non-compliance with ID check laws never fall below 20%. Dr. James Macinko, one of the study's authors, says the current level of non-compliance is troubling.

    "In addition, sales below legal minimum prices present additional challenges for controlling access to cigarettes not just among youth, but among the entire city's population," he said.

    In 2014 New York City enacted a law that raised the minimum age to buy cigarettes, from 18 to 21. The law was aimed at reducing smoking rates, especially a...
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