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FDA Cigarette Vender Exemption Does Not Always Include Bars

Posted On: 7/11/2010

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KENOSHA, WI -- The new federal tobacco sales and marketing rules that gives the FDA regulatory control of tobacco products allows an exception for cigarette vending machines only "where no person younger than 18 years of age is present, or permitted to enter, at any time."

On the face of it, the exemption might seem to permit their continued use in bars, where a majority the nation's remaining cigarette machines is located. But what if persons under a state's legal drinking age are allowed to enter establishments licensed to serve alcoholic beverages when accompanied by a guardian or spouse over the legal drinking age? In Wisconsin, where minors can enter a bar with a guardian, cigarette machines became illegal on June 22, the day the Tobacco Control Act went into effect.

Jim Matzur, owner of Boathouse Pub in Kenosha, is among the state's tavern owners who are enraged by the federal law. Matzur owned his machine and removed it. But most bar locations use vending operators. Midwest Novelty Co., also in Kenosha, owns 110 cigarette vending machines. Midwest's Nello Cristiano told a local paper that vended cigarette sales represented about a third of his operation's bottom line and that his business is in dire straits without them. See story in the Kenosha News.

In related news, Wisconsin's smoking ban was extended to bars and restaurants on July 5, but state officials admitted that enforcement responsibility remains unclear. See story.

On June 22, 2009, the President signed the law that gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco, and its one-year anniversary last week marked the start of a number of provisions in the law. The Tobacco Control Act, designed to keep cigarettes out of the hands of kids, gives the FDA regulatory control of tobacco products. The law immediately banned candy- and fruit-flavored tobacco products; required tobacco companies to register their facilities and provide the FDA with a detailed list of all product ingredients; and banned the use of the terms "light," "mild" and "low-tar" from tobacco labeling and marketing. The law does not permit the agency to ban all tobacco sales out of hand, nor does it allow it to limit nicotine content to zero. The new rules restrict vending machines and self-service displays to adult-only facilities.