Help keep kids smiling — and tobacco-free. Report tobacco sales violations to the FDA.
Because teens' brains are still developing, it may be easier for them to become addicted to nicotine. In fact, as little as one cigarette a month is all it takes for some teens to become addicted, so it's important to keep tobacco products out of the hands of youth.
To protect the public health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration brought all tobacco products—including e-cigarettes—under its regulatory authority in August 2016, extending a mandatory minimum purchase age of 18 for all tobacco products nationwide.
To ensure tobacco product retailers follow these regulations, the FDA monitors compliance with its laws through surveillance and inspections and by investigating complaints from the public about potential violations.
How You Can Help
While overall smoking rates have declined, every day in the United States more than 2,500 youth under age 18 still smoke their first cigarette, and e-cigarette use among teens increased by 900 percent from 2011 to 2015.
The FDA has monitored retailer compliance with tobacco laws since 2010 via the Tobacco Retailer Compliance Check Inspection Program. Of the more than 61,000 retailer inspections where violations were observed since FDA inspections began in 2010, about 91 percent were for selling tobacco products to minors. (The FDA's 2014 Compliance and Enforcement Report is available online [PDF 1.8MB]).
That's why the FDA needs your help to ensure retailers nationwide are following federal tobacco laws.
You can report a potential tobacco product violation to the FDA in just minutes. Your report may help us identify possible violations of the laws that we enforce.
Here's how you can take action.
- Report online.
- Call the FDA at 1-877-CTP-1373 (1-800-287-1373).
- Download and mail a reporting form to the following address:
Center for Tobacco Products
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Document Control Center
Building 71, Room G335
Silver Spring, MD 20993-002
When reporting a potential violation, give as much information as you can to help the FDA with a possible follow-up investigation, such as the date, location, product type, product brand, and/or type of violation.
You can report a variety of issues, including:
- sales of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, pipe tobacco, cigars, or any other tobacco product to minors
- sales of flavored cigarettes or flavored cigarette tobacco (except menthol)
- the distribution of free samples of any tobacco product (except smokeless tobacco in certain qualified adult-only facilities)
- sales of single cigarettes
- sales of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco through vending machines and self-service displays unless it's in a facility where only adults age 18 or older may enter sales of cigars, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, hookah tobacco, or pipe tobacco from a vending machine unless it's in a facility where only adults age 18 or older may enter.
You can find more tips for how retailers can comply with federal regulations on the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products' website.
How the FDA Investigates Reports
The FDA reviews all complaints that we receive. You can submit complaints anonymously. If you choose to include contact information, we will first confirm receipt of the complaint.
Before determining the appropriate actions or investigation, we will check to see if the product named in the complaint is a product that the FDA regulates, and if the complaint is a possible violation of the laws we enforce.
If the product in the complaint is regulated by a different federal or state agency, we will forward the complaint, as appropriate, to the applicable entity for evaluation. For example, a complaint about a tobacco retailer selling cigarettes to minors would fall under FDA jurisdiction, whereas a complaint about the lack of tax stamps on packages of cigarettes would not.
The FDA performs its own investigations of complaints and does not rely solely on reports to take enforcement action. After reviewing a complaint, we may, among other things:
- conduct a compliance check inspection of a tobacco retailer; or
- initiate monitoring and surveillance of the tobacco product retailer's website.
During our investigation, the FDA may determine there is no evidence of a violation. Or we may find evidence of the reported violation—or of other potential violations—that will require additional surveillance, monitoring, and/or inspections.
The time it takes the FDA to complete an investigation varies with the complexity of the observed violations and the evidence collected.
Results of the FDA's Work—and How to Find This Information
In general, the FDA issues a Warning Letter to a retailer for first-time violations. Retail establishments that continue to violate the law are subject to additional enforcement action such as a civil money penalty (a type of fine) or a No-Tobacco-Sale Order.
A list of tobacco retailers that we've inspected, as well as any Warning Letters, civil money penalties, or No-Tobacco-Sales Orders issued to a tobacco retailer, is located in our online, searchable database. Warning Letters issued to tobacco manufacturers or distributors or to online retailers also are available.
You can seek additional information on closed cases by filing a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request. Instructions for filing these requests are online. The FDA can release information about an investigation through an FOIA request only after the case is closed.
By sending complaints of potential tobacco product violations to the FDA, you help us to monitor industry compliance with laws, reduce the health impact of tobacco use, and keep young people tobacco-free.
This article appears on the FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
Updated: February 9, 2017