In July 1992, Congress enacted the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act (PL 102-321), which includes an amendment (section 1926) aimed at decreasing youth access to tobacco. This amendment, named for its sponsor, Congressman Mike Synar of Oklahoma, requires states (that is, all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and six Pacific jurisdictions) to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18. States must comply with the Synar Amendment in order to receive their full Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) awards.
Public Law 116-94, signed on December 20, 2019, superseded this legislation and increased the minimum age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21. Read more information on this change.
The Synar Amendment was developed in the context of a growing body of evidence about the health problems related to tobacco use by youth, as well as evidence about the ease with which youth could purchase tobacco products through retail sources. The Synar program has been successful in preventing youth tobacco use.
In January 1996, SAMHSA issued the Synar regulation to provide guidance to the states. 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%).
For more information regarding the Synar regulation, refer to the Tobacco Regulation for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant – Final Rule – 1996 (PDF | 260 KB).
The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Tobacco Retail Compliance Contracts and the Synar Program
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act became law on June 22, 2009, granting FDA authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products to protect the public health generally and to reduce tobacco use by minors. Currently the law applies to cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and cigarette tobacco. The document A Strategic Partnership (PDF | 199 KB) provides overviews of the SAMHSA Synar Program and FDA Tobacco Retail Compliance Inspection Contracts, and it describes how the programs differ and work together to reach the shared goal of reducing youth access to and use of tobacco products.