Tob Control 14:93-98 doi:10.1136/tc.2004.009373
  • Research paper

The federal initiative to halt the sale of tobacco to children—the Synar Amendment, 1992–2000: lessons learned

  1. J R DiFranza,
  2. G F Dussault
  1. Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Joseph R DiFranza MD
 Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, 55 Lake Avenue, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts 01655, USA;
  • Received 20 July 2004
  • Accepted 6 January 2005


Background: The Synar Amendment was enacted by the US Congress in 1992 to require states and territories to establish and enforce laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors.

Objective: To describe state and federal efforts to comply with the Synar mandate.

Methods: State and federal actions were examined for the eight years following enactment.

Data sources: Federal documents from 1992–2003, annual block grant applications from 59 states and territories describing activities during federal fiscal years 1995–2000.

Measures: Whether applicants made a good faith effort to comply by enacting a law, enforcing it with inspections and penalties, conducting a valid survey and meeting violation rate targets set by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Results: Between 1996 and 2000, 26 states had made a good faith effort to comply with Synar every year. In 2000, 57 jurisdictions (excluding Maryland and Montana) had established laws without loopholes, 57 conducted a valid survey, and 54 actively enforced their laws. By 2002, violation rates had dropped substantially everywhere but Alaska and a few small territories. No state reached the violation rate goal of 20% without penalising violators.

Conclusions: The Synar Amendment has resulted in the universal adoption of laws prohibiting tobacco sales to minors and almost universal enforcement of those laws, resulting in dramatically reduced violation rates. Implementation was slowed significantly by a lack of good faith effort in many states and by DHHS’s decision not to require states to enforce their laws by penalising lawbreakers.


  • Competing interests: none