Coming Soon: We Card Awareness Month

Industry honchos highlight the importance of tobacco minor sales prevention program

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the summer comes to an end, retailers and manufacturers alike are preparing for We Card Awareness Month, which kicks off in September. While more and more retailers are passing compliance inspections and youth tobacco consumption rates are dropping, it is still essential that retailers continue to educate their employees on how best to prevent tobacco sales to minors.

"Stopping kids from getting tobacco is the right thing to do, and retailers play a big role in preventing illegal tobacco sales to minors," said We Card president Doug Anderson.

"Kids should not use cigarettes or any tobacco product," Brian May, a spokesperson for Altria Group Inc., told CSP Tobacco E-News. "Our support of the We Card program is one of the ways we're working to help reduce underage use of tobacco products."

Indeed, Altria has been working with We Card on this goal for some time--the company's Philip Morris USA signed on when the program was founded in 1995.

"We Card Awareness month provides our field sales force an opportunity to reinforce the importance of responsibly selling tobacco products to legal-age adults," May continued.

Even companies in the electronic cigarette business--which does not yet require age verification on the federal level--are joining the cause of keeping their products out of the hands of minors. Multiple e-cig suppliers have signed on with We Card, including industry leader NJOY.

"As the first independent electronic cigarette company to support We Card and join its Manufacturers Advisory Council, age verification is very important to NJOY and we have committed to doing what we can to prevent underage access to our products," said NJOY CEO Craig Weiss. "We Card is an important program that helps ensure our products are sold only to adult committed smokers and provides necessary direction and oversight to our retail partners."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had regulatory authority over tobacco since 2010, when it started conducting compliance inspections to verify that retailers are checking IDs on tobacco purchases for any customer that appears to be under the age of 27. R.J. Reynolds--another founding member of We Card--believes the program's efforts have been a crucial tool in helping retailers pass such inspections.

"There's been great progress on reducing youth access and use over the years—and government stats back this up--but more can and should be done," said Reynolds' senior manager of communications, Jane Seccombe. "According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Synar Amendment program, all states continue to meet the goal of reducing illegal tobacco sales to those under 18, and retailer violation rates have fallen dramatically from 40.1% in 1997 to 9.1% in 2012."

Thomas Briant, executive director of NATO, echoed the sentiments expressed by Reynolds on both the good work retailers have done on ensuring tobacco products stay out of the hands of minors and the need for continuing diligence to age verification education.

"As a supporting member of We Card, NATO encourages tobacco retailers to continue their efforts during September to train their employees to prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors," he said. "According to the FDA's state retail inspection program, almost 95% of retailers inspected pass the inspections successfully. This is a testament to the importance that retailers place on preventing the sale of tobacco products to minors."

On August 14, the FDA announced it had issued its 10,000th warning letter--and is on track to conduct compliance checks on 100,000 retail locations in 2013, highlighting just how imperative it is for retailers to rigorously train their staff on age-verification practices.

"Taking preventative steps now--such as using We Card's training and education services is easier than navigating a violation notice, hiring a lawyer and losing a positive reputation in the community," Anderson said.

As part of We Card Awareness Month, retailers are encouraged to order We Card calendars and other in-store materials for the upcoming year, as well as training or re-training employees using We Card's award-winning training courses. These courses are offered online through We Card's eLearning Center at