Topic:
RETAIL TRADE; AGE OF MAJORITY; JUVENILES; SMOKING;
Location:
SMOKING;

OLR Research Report


April 5, 2007

 

2007-R-0303

NEIGHBORING STATE PENALTIES FOR SALE OF TOBACCO TO MINORS

By: Zachary Schurin, Legislative Fellow

You asked for (1) a summary of neighboring state (Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) laws setting penalties for the sale to and possession or use of tobacco by minors, and (2) enforcement data on tobacco laws in Connecticut.

SUMMARY

Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island all prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors, and enforce this prohibition through the imposition of fines that increase for repeat infractions. Of these states, only Rhode Island prohibits minors from possessing or using tobacco in public. In each, retailers are required to post signs stating that the sale of tobacco products to minors is illegal.

BACKGROUND

In 1991, Congress passed the Synar law, which prohibits the sale of tobacco products to minors under the age of 18. This law also forces state governments to monitor the sale of tobacco to minors. In response to the Synar law, many state governments passed legislation that bans minors from buying or possessing tobacco.

As of March 2005, 40 states prohibited minors from purchasing tobacco products. Thirty-one states prohibited minors from possessing tobacco in all circumstances. Five states, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, and Rhode Island, banned possession of tobacco in certain places such as school or public property.

NEIGHBORING STATES

Possession by Minors

Among Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, only Rhode Island restricts the possession of tobacco by minors. Under Rhode Island law no person under 18 years of age may use or possess tobacco in a public place when such use or possession is clearly visible. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $75 and either twenty hours community service or participation in a tobacco treatment program administered by a local substance abuse task force (R.I. Gen. Laws 11-9-14 (2006)).

Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are three of the four states in the country not to restrict tobacco possession or use by minors (the other state is Nevada).

Sales to Minors

Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island all prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors. Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island prohibit the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 18, and New Jersey prohibits the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 19. Like Connecticut, these states rely on fines to prohibit illegal sales. While technically the mechanisms for levying and collecting fines differ (in New Jersey and New York illegal sale to minors is punishable through civil fines, and in Massachusetts and Rhode Island infractions are punishable through criminal fines) the basic fine structure in these states is the same. Fines increase for repeat offenses and are levied against the retailer who sells the tobacco product, the individual employee who sells the product, or both.

Table I: Fine Schedule for Tobacco Sale to Minors in Connecticut and Neighboring States

State

Subject of Fine

First Offense

Second Offense

Third Offense

Subsequent Offenses

Connecticut (CGS 12-295a (2006))

Dealer or distributor

$250

$500 (if second offense is within 18 months)

$500 and 30 day suspension of license (if offense is within 18 months)

No penalty specified

 

Employee of dealer or distributor

$100

$150

$150

$150

Massachusetts (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 270, 6 (2006))

License holder

$100 minimum

$200 minimum

$300 minimum

$300 minimum

New Jersey (N.J. Rev. Stat. 2A:170-51.4 (2007))

Individual seller

$250 minimum

$500 minimum

$1,000 minimum

$1,000 minimum

New York (N.Y. PUB. HEALTH LAW 1399-ee (2006))

License holder

$300 minimum; $1,000 maximum

$500 minimum; 1500 maximum

$500 minimum; $1,500 maximum

$500 minimum; $1,500 maximum

Rhode Island (R.I. Gen. Laws 11-9-13(2006))

License holder

$250

$500

$1,000 and 14 day suspension of license to sell tobacco products

$1,500 and 90 day suspension of license to sell tobacco products

Posted Warning Signs

All of the states surveyed require licensed tobacco retailers to post conspicuous signs stating that the sale of tobacco products to minors is illegal. Connecticut, unlike its neighbors, requires signs that state that possession and use by minors, along with sale to minors is prohibited. By contrast, the four states we surveyed only require posted signs that state that the sale of tobacco products to minors is illegal. The sign posting laws in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are fairly specific, mandating signs that state the fines for illegal sale and the relevant statute. New York law is more general, only requiring signs that state the sale to minors is illegal.

Table 2: Text of Prohibited Tobacco Sale Signs

State

Required Sign Text

Connecticut (CGS 12-286a (2006))

All dealers and distributors must post signs stating: “(1) that the sale, giving or delivering of tobacco products is prohibited by section 53-344, (2) the purchase or misrepresentation of age by a person under 18 years of age to purchase cigarettes or tobacco products is prohibited by said section 53-344, and (3) the penalties and fines for violating said section 53-344 and section 12-295a.”

Massachusetts (Mass. Gen. Law ch. 270 7 (2006))

“Whoever sells a cigarette, chewing tobacco, snuff or any tobacco in any of its forms to any person under the age of eighteen shall be punished by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars for the first offense, not less than two hundred dollars for a second offense and not less than three hundred dollars for any third or subsequent offense.”

New Jersey (N.J. Stat. Ann. 54:40A-4.1 (2007))

“A person who sells or offers to sell a tobacco product to a person under 19 years of age shall pay a penalty of up to $1,000 and may be subject to a license suspension or revocation. Proof of age may be required for purchase.”

New York (N.Y. PUB. HEALTH LAW 1399-cc (2006).

“Sale of cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, powdered tobacco, or other tobacco products, herbal cigarettes, rolling papers, or pipes, to persons under 18 years of age is prohibited by law.”

Rhode Island (R.I. Gen. Laws 11-9-13.7 (2006))

“The sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to persons under the age of 18 is against Rhode Island law (Section 11-9-13.8(1), Rhode Island Statutes) photo ID for proof of age is required for purchase.”

CONNECTICUT ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY

Table 3 shows enforcement data relating to minor possession and purchase of tobacco in Connecticut since 2001 (case dispositions in parentheses).

Table 3: Connecticut Prosecution of Minor Tobacco Sales Statutes

Statute

Number of Fines Issued

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Illegal sale to minor
(CGS 53-344(b) (2006))

0

0

1 (nolle)

0

0

0

0

Illegal purchase by minor
(CGS 53-344(c) (2006))

0

2 (fines collected)

2 (1 fine collected, 1 nolle)

6 (fines collected)

3 (2 bond forfeitures, 1 nolle)

2 (1 fine collected, 1 nolle)

1 (fine collected)

Failure to post notice of restriction of sale of tobacco products
(CGS 12-286a (2006))

0

0

0

0

0

0

2 (2 nolles)

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