NEW YORK -- Complying with the Food and Drug Administration's new tobacco rules may be challenging for some retailers.
Tawn Nhan, a spokeswoman at Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, said the biggest hurdle will be training workers to understand the rules.
Food Lion has already conducted store-level meetings to educate cashiers about the regulations. The chain has an existing age-verification policy for shoppers under 30 who wish to purchase alcohol. Food Lion is now telling employees to use the same procedure for tobacco sales.
"In response to the new rules, we've expanded that policy to include cigarettes and smokeless tobacco purchases," Nhan said.
The first phase of the regulation, which was scheduled to go into effect Feb. 28, requires retailers to request a government-issued photo identification card from shoppers under 27 years old who wish to purchase cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. Eighteen is the minimum age for someone to buy cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in the United States, according to the FDA rules.
Even if a consumer is 18 to 26, but cannot produce an ID, the retailer cannot legally sell that consumer cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. Cigars and pipes are not part of the FDA's legislation.
The FDA will enforce the policy by conducting spot checks of retail outlets. Retailers who sell to minors risk penalties of $250 or more.
Two weeks ago, the FDA held a live video conference here and in 24 other cities to outline the conditions of the regulations.
"The biggest difficulty is going to be making a judgment about who's 27 and who's not," added Paul Bernish, corporate director of public affairs at Kroger Co., Cincinnati.
"We have basically indicated to our people that if they have any doubt, they should ask for a photo ID," he added.
Some Kroger stores will benefit from existing point-of-sale equipment that will remind cashiers to ask for identification. The technology, currently used to verify the age of alcohol purchasers, can be programmed to include tobacco products.
Bernish raised the issue of the general public's awareness of the FDA's policy, saying he hoped shoppers would be understanding as retailers acclimate to the changes.
Of the retailers polled by SN, none would comment about plans or finances needed to accommodate the second phase of the policy, which goes into effect Aug. 28. This phase will require a face-to-face transaction, only black and white advertising, no free tobacco samples, no promotional giveaways linked to tobacco brands and no vending machines.
Vending machines are at issue in some Giant Food stores, said Barry Scher, vice president of public affairs at the Landover, Md.-based chain. Its stores currently sell tokens that can be used to purchase cigarettes from a vending machine. To buy a token, shoppers must interact with a checker, Scher added.
Scher said he would like to see the regulations adjusted for retailers who have made a stand against cigarette sales to youngsters.
"Those retailers that have taken extra steps, such as installing token mechanisms in their vending machines, should continue to have the opportunity to use their equipment that prevents the sale of cigarettes to minors," he added.
Food Lion has been using a different type of security program for more than two years. Each time an alcoholic beverage or tobacco product is purchased, the register locks, and can't be opened until the clerk keys in a code that says the customer's identification was checked.