The FDA conducts inspections of retailers to determine their compliance with federal laws and regulations. To do so, it contracts state agencies, such as the health department or human services, as well as private firms by state to execute the compliance checks.

There are generally two kinds of inspections. One focuses solely on underage sales, using an underage decoy who enters a store and attempts to purchase a regulated tobacco product. The second kind involves an FDA-contracted inspector who determines if other regulations are being followed, such as the prohibition of self-service displays of cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco.

Both of these inspections are undercover, and neither the minor nor the inspector will identify themselves to the retailer.