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Adolescents and Tobacco: Strategies and Approaches

Existing Federal Policies

Federal legislation and regulation has influenced adolescent access to and use of tobacco over the years. Check out the full list of tobacco laws and regulations that constitute federal tobacco control efforts.

Notably, in 1992, legislation was passed that required states to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under age 18. The result of this legislation, the Synar Program, helped to reduce youth access to tobacco through retail outlets.

In 1998, 46 states reached an agreement with the four largest tobacco companies, known as the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. With this agreement, states recovered funds from the industry for tobacco-related Medicaid health expenses, and received funds to create comprehensive anti-tobacco campaigns in their state. The tobacco companies also agreed not to “take any action, directly or indirectly, to target Youth within any Settling State in the advertising, promotion or marketing of Tobacco Products, or take any action the primary purpose of which is to initiate, maintain or increase the incidence of Youth smoking within any Settling State.”

In recent years, other federal laws have served to further restrict youth tobacco use.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed in 2009, initially gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products to protect public health. Among the broad power it granted the FDA, the law's provisions strive to reduce adolescent tobacco use in several ways, including restricting tobacco product advertising and marketing to youth by limiting the color and design of packaging and advertisements and banning free samples of cigarettes and brand-name non-tobacco promotional items.

The FDA issued a rule (effective in June 2010) that for the first time made selling cigarettes to minors a violation of federal law. To support the new rule and help retailers comply with tobacco regulations, the FDA launched This is Our Watch

The Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act was signed into law in March 2010. It requires all Internet cigarette vendors to verify the age and identity of customers, reducing youth tobacco purchases online.1

In 2016, the FDA issued a rule that expanded the agency’s authority under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 to cover all products that meet the definition of a tobacco product, including electronic nicotine delivery systems (such as e-cigarettes and vape pens), all cigars, hookah (waterpipe) tobacco, pipe tobacco, and nicotine gels, among others. The new rule prohibits retailers from selling these products to people under age 18, both in person and online. In addition, it restricts youth tobacco-product access by:

  • Requiring age verification by photo ID;
  • Not allowing the selling of covered tobacco products in vending machines (unless in an adult-only facility); and
  • Not allowing the distribution of free samples.

In 2018, the FDA described new steps and actions to reduce youth use of e-cigarettes and popular vaping devices such as JUUL. The action steps include preventing retail and online establishments from selling these devices to minors and issuing warnings to retailers that violate the law, reaching out to manufacturers of devices, examining the marketing of these devices, and educating youth and the public.

State and Community Approaches and Policies

States and communities can also undertake a number of actions to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use. These include:

  • Instituting youth targeted mass-media counter marketing campaigns.2,3
  • Eliminating state laws that preempt any more restrictive local tobacco control law.4
  • Reinforcing tobacco laws at the local level.4
  • Restricting advertising and promotion.4
  • Increasing tobacco excise taxes.2,5
  • Banning smoking from restaurants and other public places, including schools, workplaces, and hospitals.4

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that states build sustainable capacity and infrastructure to strengthen and maintain comprehensive tobacco control programs. To do so, the CDC recommends that states should invest seven to 11 dollars per capita in these programs. 2

For more information on current and historic tobacco prevention policies across the states, visit the CDC’s State Tobacco Activities Tracking and Evaluation (STATE) System.


1 111th Congress. (2010, March 31). Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act of 2009. Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ154/pdf/PLAW-111publ154.pdf.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Best practices for comprehensive tobacco control programs—2014. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotions, Office on Smoking and Health. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/stateandcommunity/best_practices/pdfs/2014/comprehensive.pdf.
3 Brinn, M. P., Carson, K. V., Esterman, A. J., Chang, A. B., & Smith, B. J. (2010). Mass media interventions for preventing smoking in young people. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 11.
4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). The health consequences of smoking—50 years of progress: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. Retrieved from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-of-progress/?_ga=1.85329114.252217801.1464102713.
5 Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. (2011). Raising cigarette taxes reduces smoking, especially among kids. Retrieved from http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0146.pdf.
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on April 8, 2019