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Evidence of the Synar Program’s Success

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Evaluation results show that the Synar program has reduced youth access to tobacco through retail sources.

Evaluation Results

While the national weighted average retailer violation rate (RVR) for the 50 states and the District of Columbia (weighted by state population) was 40.1% in FY 1997, the RVR has steadily fallen since to a program low of 8.5% in FY 2011. Since then there has been a slight increase to 9.6% in FY 2018. The State Synar Rate Tables (PDF | 363 KB) provide additional data on target and reported RVRs from FY 1997 to FY 2018. For information on target and reported RVRs for FY 2009 to FY 2014, 
see Synar Annual Reports.

The Synar program has also contributed to a decline in the percentage of youth smokers who report retail sources as their usual source of tobacco products. Specifically, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), in 1995, 38.7% of students under the age of 18 who were current smokers reported that they usually got their own cigarettes by buying them in a store or gas station. In 2011, this percentage had dropped to 14%.

At the same time, tobacco use among youth has been declining. According to YRBS, the percentage of students reporting current cigarette use dropped from 34.8% in 1995 to 6.0% in 2019.

Recent research also shows that the enforcement of youth access laws through the Synar program is directly responsible for a portion of the decline in youth smoking. Specifically, a 2009 study by Joseph DiFranza, M.D., and colleagues that examined merchant compliance with youth tobacco access laws between 1997 and 2003 and data on tobacco use from the same time period found that after controlling for price changes, media campaigns, and smoking restrictions, the odds ratio for daily smoking was reduced by 2% for each 1% increase in merchant compliance with youth access laws.


States have made considerable progress in attaining the goals of the Synar legislation. In addition to the consistent decline in the national weighted average RVR, states have implemented a variety of interrelated policies and programs designed to limit youth access to tobacco products through retail sources. In addition to laws banning sales to people under the age of 21, states also have enacted legislation limiting youth access to tobacco products. This includes legislation that:

  • Restricts tobacco vending machines
  • Requires “age of sale” signs
  • Creates a graduated system of civil or criminal penalties for outlet owners and/or clerks
  • Requires statewide merchant education
  • Specifies state enforcement authority
  • Requires random, unannounced inspections
  • Requires licensure of tobacco retailers
  • Allows people under the age of 21 to conduct compliance checks
  • Provides immunity to youth who conduct compliance checks
  • Includes electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) in their Synar inspections
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