Retailers Need to Rank Tobacco Training as Priority

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Retailers Need to Rank Tobacco Training as Priority

By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News - 03/14/2012

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- NACS has one recommendation for retailers who sell tobacco products: get your employees trained.

Speaking during the "FDA & Your Store Operations" webinar this afternoon, Lyle Beckwith senior vice president of government relations at NACS, said that is the main take away from the joint presentation by NACS and We Card.

"It is vital to your companies, your communities that the people on the front line know what the laws and keep tobacco products out of the hands of minors," Beckwith said.

Seventeen years ago NACS took steps to get the retail industry trained when it became a founding member of The We Card Program Inc., a national non-profit formed to provide retailers with training and educational tools to help them in their efforts to prevent underage sales of tobacco and age restricted products.

Part of the problem, though, is that to date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved a training program for retailers to follow. The agency, which was granted regulatory control over tobacco products in 2009, has said it will not make that designation but it is working on standards for a training program to follow. To that end, the agency did publish draft guidance on standards in 2010, according to Doug Anderson, president of We Card.

The FDA currently has contracts in 38 states and Washington, D.C. for compliance checks of all retailers who sell tobacco products, Anderson noted, adding that the number is expected to grow as the FDA fans out to more states to sign contracts in all 50. Of the 38 states currently under the contracts, the agency has begun taking action against retailers in 23.

"The statistics tell a story of aggressive enforcement and it is here to stay," Anderson added.

FDA regulations on tobacco sales include the prohibition of underage sales, age verification under age 27 regardless if the customer is known to the retailer, prohibition of free samples, restrictions on gifts and discounts, and restrictions on self-service displays -- to just name a few. The first violation results in a warning letter, with civil money penalties levied for subsequent violations, he explained.

The agency has two lists of penalties, Anderson said. One is for retailers who have an approved training program and one for retailers who do not. Since the FDA has not issued final standards on what an approved training program is at this point, all penalties are assessed as if an approved training program is in place, he explained.

"The bottom line is be proactive, stay engaged and learn all you can about the FDA regulations," he noted. "Don't wait, be ready. Don't sit on the fence waiting for clarity."