An Overview of the Synar Provision: History, Impact of Tobacco 21 Legislation, and Recommendations

This updated factsheet includes the federal revisions to guidance that occurred between 2020-2022 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congress enacted the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Administration Reorganization Act (Public Law No: 102-321) in 1992 that included a provision referred to as the Synar Amendment. The Amendment aims to decrease youth tobacco use by requiring States and Territories to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18.

In 1996, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a regulation giving further guidance to States related to Synar implementation and enforcement. The regulation required States to conduct annual, unannounced inspections of tobacco retailers that provide a probability sample of the accessibility of tobacco products to minors under the age of 18. States had to meet at least an 80 percent compliance rate of retailers refusing tobacco sales to minors. States that have a retail violation rate of more than 20 percent resulted in penalization of up to 40 percent of a State’s Substance Use Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Services (SUPTRS) Block Grant (previously named the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment [SAPT] Block Grant).

Over time, Congress worked with the Administration to offer an alternative penalty that was significantly less that the 40 percent marker but required the State to generate funds to remedy the violation. No federal funding was ever provided to the managers of the Substance Use Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Services (SUPTRS) Block Grant – State alcohol and drug agencies – to specifically support Synar implementation and enforcement activities.

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