Many teens underestimate how easy it is to become addicted to nicotine. This raises concerns because young people are at greatest risk of nicotine addiction because their brains are still developing. In fact, as little as one cigarette a month is all it takes for some teens to show symptoms of addiction. And some vape cartridges can contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. It’s important to keep all tobacco products out of the hands of young people.
To protect the public health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates all tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarette/vaping products, cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookah, and more. It is illegal to sell any tobacco product to anyone under the age of 21.
To ensure tobacco product retailers follow all of the restrictions on the marketing and sale of tobacco products, the FDA monitors compliance through surveillance and inspections and by investigating complaints from the public about potential violations.
How You Can Help
While overall smoking rates have declined over the years, youth tobacco use remains a concern. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, nearly 4.5 million youth used tobacco products in 2020, including nearly 3.6 million youth who used vaping products.
The FDA has monitored retailer compliance with tobacco laws since 2010 via the Tobacco Retailer Compliance Check Inspection Program. Of the more than 97,000 retailer inspections where violations were observed, about 95 percent were for selling tobacco products to young people under the minimum legal age.
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 retailers who may not be complying with the laws that we enforce.
You can do any of these three things to take action:
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, name and location of the retailer, website address (URL), product type, product brand, and type of violation.
You can report a variety of issues, including:
- Sales of e-cigarette/vaping products, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookah tobacco, pipe tobacco, cigars, or any other tobacco product to anyone under age 21.
- 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 21 or older may enter.
- Sales of cigars, e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, or pipe tobacco from a vending machine unless it’s in a facility where only adults age 21 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.
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 anyone under age 21 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 Retail Compliance Check Inspection 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.