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U.S. Warns Stores for Selling Cigarettes to Minors

January 8, 2011

Health officials have warned 25 Mississippi convenience stores to stop illegally selling cigarettes to minors, exercising for the first time new federal powers over sales to people under age 18.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday it sent the stores warning letters for failing to check picture identification and selling cigarettes to minors after inspections in November uncovered the illegal sales.

The agency, which began regulating tobacco products under a 2009 law, told the stores to prevent future sales to minors or face possible penalties that could include fines, a ban on selling tobacco products and product seizures.

The FDA's move is the latest sign that federal regulators are actively using new powers given to them under the law. It also puts retailers nationwide on notice to expect tougher scrutiny.

"If inspectors identify violations, the FDA will take swift actions to protect young people," Lawrence Deyton, head of the FDA's new tobacco center, said in a statement.

Mississippi is one of 15 states using state inspectors to conduct such FDA investigations. This year, the FDA plans to expand the partnership to all 50 states.

Cigarette sales to minors have long been illegal. Still, more than a quarter of children and teenagers have tried or used cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and other similar products, according to government statistics.

The FDA announcement regarding the convenience stores came two days after the agency said cigarette makers must provide regulators with detailed information about the ingredients and design of products they have introduced or changed since early 2007 or face possible penalties.

Under the 2009 law, which won bipartisan support in Congress, FDA gained wide power for the first time over cigarettes and other tobacco products, allowing it to regulate manufacturing and ingredients as well as sales and marketing.

The FDA sent the warning letters, dated December 29 and made public on Friday, mostly to stores at gas stations as well as other convenience stores and delis. The letters were posted on the FDA's website at http://link.reuters.com/qus35r.

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