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Synar Amendment Overview 

The Synar Amendment is a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) controlled act passed in 1992 with the goal of reducing youth access to tobacco. Named after sponsor and Oklahoma congressman Mike Synar, the amendment gives strict state guidance on the sale procedures for tobacco. Over the nearly 30 years of the Synar Amendment’s implementation, data shows that tobacco sales to minors (gauged by unannounced inspections) has fallen significantly.

Synar Requirements and Penalties 

The aim of the Synar Amendment is, according to SAMHSA, to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18. The Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) awards are also only given to states that fully comply with the Synar Amendment. The regulation and updates from Public Law 116-94 requires that states: 

  • Enforce underage access laws to a degree that reasonably can be expected to reduce the illegal sale of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21. 
  • Conduct annual, unannounced inspections that provide a valid probability sample of tobacco sales outlets accessible to minors. 
  • Report their sampling methodology and results of the annual Synar survey as a part of the Annual Synar Report no later than December 31. This includes the State’s sampling methodology, Synar survey results, Synar inspection report, and the Synar inspection protocol. 
  • Revise their methodology, inspection reports, and inspection protocols, to include the revised age requirements (under 21). In addition, the Synar survey results must now include results for sales to youth and young adults under the age of 21. 
  • Achieve a noncompliance rate of no more than 20% (SAMHSA requires that each state reduce its retailer violation rate to 20%). 

In addition to setting targets for the states, the Synar Amendment established penalties for noncompliance. The penalty for a state is loss of up to 10% of its Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) funds. 

A state can avoid the 10% reduction in its SABG funds if the state stipulates that it will spend its own funds to improve compliance with the law. Specifically, under the alternative penalty, a state that fails to meet Synar requirements can submit a corrective action plan to the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use that outlines strategies they will take to reduce the Retail Violation Rate to 20 percent or less. 

Recent Trends 

The results of the random, unannounced inspections show that most states have made significant progress in enforcing youth tobacco access laws and in reducing the percentage of retailers that sell tobacco products to minors. While the national weighted average Retail Violation Rate (RVR) has dramatically fallen since the inception of the Synar program, the rate has increased over the past three years, as seen by this graphic of the percentage of violations over time. 


Although the Synar amendment has done much to reduce the amount of tobacco falling into the hands of minors since 1997, the fact that those rates are increasing in recent years shows that stores must work harder to properly implement the act’s procedures. Tobacco retailers should stay vigilant about their sales to be sure not to sell to minors. 


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A search of Synar reports provides the answer.

The short answer is “Yes”. The long answer is that it really depends on the state, Synar sampling, and how the survey is carried out.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Synar reports and their associated surveys, they are carried out every year by each state to measure the effectiveness of their tobacco programs.

Setting the Stage with Some Simple Facts and Data

According to the CDC, there are about 380,000 tobacco retailers in the US. According to Synar reports, that number is about right.

The Synar reports include surveys that describe the selection and inspection of retail locations by each state. Each report includes a set of data required by the SAMHSA/CSAP which provides three optional tables to report violations related to the sale of tobacco sales to minors. One of these tables is the number of violations by type of retail location.

The data set from 2020 that I’ve compiled is from 50 US states/regions which represent about 310,000 retail locations and 47,000 inspections. The subset of data related specifically to c-store and gas stations is the aggregate of 21 states, over 90,000 locations, almost 12,000 inspections, and almost 1,100 violations. 

C-Stores Do Violate the Law More than Other Retailers

Overall, c-stores not only received more inspections than other retailers but also had a higher aggregate violation rate. But… you have to also keep in mind that over 50% of tobacco retail locations are c-store/gas stations and that over 87% of cigarettes are sold through these retailers. So the percentage of inspections shouldn’t be a surprise and are, in fact, in line with buying behaviors.

Type of RetailerLocationsInspectionsViolations
 % Locations% of InspectionsViolate Rate Per Inspection
Gas Station45%52%11%
Tobacco Store5%6%10%
Grocery Store21%21%9%
Drug Store4%1%2%

Learn more about how Loss Prevention can help to stay in compliance with age restricted sales of tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets.

How can Loss Prevention Analytics help you to keep track of age-restricted sales?

We can help you be sure that employees adhere to laws and internal policies with verifiable proof.
Learn more

On Jan 1, 2022 the Oregon Laws 2021, chapter 586 (a new ACT) goes into operational effect, requiring retailers to have a tobacco retail license. This is to help bring consistency to the enforcement of cigarette sale compliance across the state of Oregon. Here are a few facts you should know as a cigarette or tobacco retailer:

  • The license requirement begins January 1, 2022.
  • You can apply for a license in December 2021 and you should receive a letter from the state in November.
  • You can complete your license application online and it will need to be renewed yearly.
  • Have more than one location? A license fee will apply to each location on the application.
  • The total statewide tobacco retail license fee is $953.
  • The state will conduct an inspection at least once a year.
  • Who do you contact? Until the operational period begins on Jan 1, 2022, you can reach out to​. 

Colorado also instituted license requirements in 2021 which leaves 9 states without license provisions:

  • Arizona
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Wyoming

How does Oregon fare against other states when it comes to maximum business penalties for tobacco retail sales violations?

State/TerritoryMaximum Business PenaltyCitation
American Samoa No Maximum A.S.C.A. § 13.1113
Ohio No Maximum OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 2929.21(c)(4)
New Mexico $       10,000SB 131
Rhode Island $       10,000R.I. GEN. LAWS §§ 44-20-3 and 11-9-13.15
Washington $       10,000WASH. REV. CODE ANN. § 9A.20.021
Arkansas $         5,000ARK. CODE ANN. §§ 26-57-226 and 5-4-201 and HB 1980
California $         5,000CAL. BUS & PROF CODE § 22981
District of Columbia $         5,000D.C. CODE ANN. § 47-2422
Georgia $         5,000GA. CODE. ANN. § 48-11-24
Illinois $         5,00035 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 130/3-10
Oregon $         5,000SB 587
Palau $         5,00011 PNCA § 1718
Alaska $         2,000ALASKA STAT. § 43.05.290(h)
North Dakota $         2,000N.D. CENT. CODE § 57-36-33; N.D. CENT. CODE § 12.1-32-01(5)
New Hampshire $         2,000N.H. REV. STAT. ANN. § 651:2(IV)(a)
Nevada $         2,000NEV. REV. STAT. ANN. § 193.140
New York $         2,000N.Y. TAX LAW § 480-A(3)(a) 
Texas $         2,000TEX. TAX CODE ANN. § 154..501(b); TEX. TAX CODE ANN. § 155.201(b)
Colorado $         1,000HB 1001
Connecticut $         1,000CONN. GEN. STAT. ANN §12-286
Delaware $         1,000DEL. CODE. ANN. tit. 30, § 5343
Kansas $         1,000KAN. STAT. ANN. § 79-3322(a)
Maryland $         1,000MD. CODE ANN. BUS. REG. § 16-214(b)(1)
Northern Mariana Islands $         1,0004 CMC § 50144
Pennsylvania $         1,00072 PA. CONS. STAT. § 228-A
Utah $         1,000UTAH CODE ANN. § 76-3-301 and HB 324
Wisconsin $         1,000WIS. STAT. § 139.44(5)
Alabama $            500HB 41
Florida $            500FLA. STAT. ANN § 569.005(1)
Louisiana $            500LA. REV. STAT. ANN. §47:859(A)
Maine $            500ME. REV. STAT. ANN. tit. 22, § 1554-B
Mississippi $            500MISS. CODE ANN. § 27-69-7 
Montana $            500MONT. CODE ANN. § 16-11-148
Nebraska $            500NEB. REV. STAT. § 28-106
U.S. Virgin Islands $            50027 V.I.C. § 307
Idaho $            300IDAHO CODE § 39-5709
Guam $            25011 GUAM CODE ANN. § 6307
New Jersey $            250N.J. REV. STAT. § 54: 40A-24(a) 
West Virginia $            250W. VA CODE § 11-12-4a(c)
Iowa $            200IOWA CODE ANN. § 453A.31
Vermont $            200VT. STAT. ANN. tit. 7, § 1002(e) 
Minnesota $               75MINN. STAT. ANN. § 461.12(2)
Massachusetts $               50MASS. GEN. LAWS ANN. ch. 64C § 10
Oklahoma $               30OKLA. STAT. tit. 68, § 304(2) 
Arizona No Provision  
Hawaii No Provision  
Indiana No Provision  
Kentucky No Provision  
Marshall Islands No Provision  
Michigan No Provision  
Missouri No Provision  
North Carolina No Provision  
Puerto Rico No Provision  
South Carolina No Provision  
South Dakota No Provision  
Tennessee No Provision  
Virginia No Provision  
Wyoming No Provision  

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