Maryland reverses trend of increased sales of tobacco products to minors

Partnerships, Health campaign help retailers to step up compliance with State law


Baltimore, MD (December 16, 2015) – Using public-private partnership to safeguard the health of its children, the State of Maryland has helped reduce by 56 percent so far this fiscal year the number of retailers who have attempted to illegally sell tobacco products to minors. As a result of this year’s partnership, Maryland’s noncompliance rate for Federal Fiscal Year 2016 has fallen to below 14 percent.   

Each state is required to conduct annual random compliance checks of retailers to ensure they are complying with the law. After years of compliance with this standard, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene inspections found, Maryland retailers were noncompliant, with sales thresholds in Federal Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 respectively near 25 percent and to more than 30 percent. In spring 2015, Maryland’s health department developed a comprehensive strategy to ensure that youth access to tobacco products from retail environments was swiftly addressed. The department also executed a marketing blitz that included billboards, social media posts, broadcast media ads, and educational packets and materials that were sent to retailers.  

“This reduction in illegal tobacco sales to Maryland’s youth could not have been done without a partnership between the State and the retail community,” said Gov. Larry Hogan. “We know most smokers start when they are underage. This partnership is literally an investment in Maryland’s future.”

“The success in achieving such a significant reduction was a team effort,” said Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Van T. Mitchell. “I would like to thank my staff, local health departments, community-based organizations, tobacco retailers and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot in collaborating to achieve this accomplishment for Maryland’s children.”

 “Health and Mental Hygiene’s and the Comptroller’s unprecedented outreach to the retail community has proven to be successful,” said Ellen Valentino, Executive Vice President of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association, the retail organization representing convenience stores and service stations. “The public-private collaboration that encompassed educating retailers, parents and teens was the right direction and has resulted in this great news.” 

According to fall 2014 Health and Mental Hygiene surveys of high school youth, just 8.7 percent of public high school youth reported smoking cigarettes during the previous 30 days. In contrast, however, 20 percent reported using electronic aerosolized products (e.g., electronic cigarettes, “vapes”, etc.) during the previous 30 days. These products are also illegal to sell to adolescents less than 18 years old.

A 2014 survey found that nearly two-thirds of Maryland adults who had ever smoked a whole cigarette began as adolescents. Of those who smoked their first whole cigarette before 18 years of age, nearly three-quarters went on to become regular cigarette smokers. The younger adolescents start smoking, the more likely it is that they will become addicted to nicotine, and the more strongly they become addicted. In Maryland alone, an excess of $3.5 billion annually is required to treat tobacco-related illness. 

For more than 20 years, federal and state laws have prohibited retailers from selling or giving cigarettes or any other tobacco product to minors less than 18 years of age. Retailer compliance with existing federal and state prohibitions on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to underage adolescents is a critical element in Maryland’s strategy to reduce consumption of tobacco products, leading to a decrease in underage smoking and the overall use of tobacco products.

In a series of subsequent random inspections conducted May 2014 through September 2014, 31.9 percent of retailers sold cigarettes to underage youth, with rates in one jurisdiction as high as 54.7 percent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration similarly found 23.8 percent of retailers across Maryland had sold tobacco to minors during that time period.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list smoking-related illnesses – which include various cancers and heart- and lung-related conditions – at Anyone who could use free help in quitting their tobacco habit is urged to contact the Maryland Tobacco Quitline by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW or by visiting 


Retailer Violation Rates by County and Penalties FY2012to2016.pdf



 The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is the state government agency that protects Maryland’s public health and also works to help Marylanders make better health decisions for better health outcomes. Stay connected: and