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TDA Works with Retailers to Prevent Youth Access to Tobacco

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) is charged with enforcing the Prevention of Youth Access to Tobacco Law. Passed in 1994, its purpose is to prevent persons under the age of 18 years from purchasing tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes. Currently, there are more than 6,000 retail outlets that offer tobacco products for sale in Tennessee.

Retailers offering tobacco products for sale must display required signage at the point of sale; offer tobacco products in their original, sealed packages; provide continuous supervision; lock or require tokens to purchase tobacco products from vending machines (please note that current federal requirements prohibit any “self-service” type of tobacco sales); and must only offer tobacco products to persons over the age of eighteen years.

TDA food safety inspectors inform retailers of the requirements and verify that such requirements are met during routine food sanitation inspections performed biannually. TDA also employs inspectors that accompany minors to witness attempted purchases of tobacco products. When an attempted purchase is made violators are not notified at the time of purchase in order to protect the identity of the minor, but they are notified of the violation via notice from the Department’s Nashville office. Penalties for repeated sales to a person under the age of 18 include penalties ranging from $500 to $1,500 depending on the number of violations discovered within a five year period. First-time offenders are issued a written warning. Citations may be imposed upon clerks making the sale when the clerk can be identified.

The owner or manager of each store offering tobacco products for sale is required by law to provide training to the store’s employees concerning the requirements of the law. As part of the training and prior to that employee selling tobacco products at retail, each employee is required to sign a statement containing substantially the following words: “I understand that state law prohibits the sale of tobacco products to persons under eighteen (18) years of age and that state law requires me to obtain proof of age from a prospective purchaser of tobacco products who, based on appearance, might be as old as twenty-six (26) years of age. I promise to obey this law, and I understand that monetary or criminal penalties may be imposed on me if I violate this law.”

If the store owner or manager can present to the Department the signed statements above, the penalty against the store owner or manager shall be eliminated in the case of a second violation. Should the violation be the third or subsequent violation, the Department considers that evidence and any other evidence in assessing the penalty against the owner or manager. Each violation results in follow-up visits to the establishment in another attempt to purchase within a few weeks from the previous violation.

Violations often occur when the clerk does not take the time to calculate the customer’s age, or the clerk is distracted and does not request the customer’s proof of age.

The Department has recently entered into a contract with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enforce federal requirements regarding the sale of tobacco products. These requirements include advertising, labeling and the provision that “self-service” is prohibited. Federal penalties range from a warning to $10,000 in cases involving multiple violations within a 48-month period. More information on federal requirements, contact FDA by email at or call 1-877-287-1373. For more information about state requirements, contact TDA at 615-837-5332.

For a State of Tennessee instruction workbook that retailers may use to train employees, go to: