On October 29th, a select group of NATO board members and NATO staff met for the first time with Dr. Lawrence Deyton, the director of the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), and a number of his staff members. Going into the meeting, the NATO representatives were unsure of what to expect, but the overall the meeting went exceptionally well.
The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the FDA’s pending guidance document that includes recommended elements of a tobacco retailer clerk training program. With this underlying purpose in mind, NATO had two overall goals for the meeting. First, establish an on-going dialogue to open the lines of communication between the association and the CTP staff. Second, encourage the FDA staff to utilize NATO and its members as a resource for questions about the manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing of tobacco products.
Those NATO representatives attending this meeting included NATO President Andy Kerstein, NATO Vice-President Mary Szarmach, NATO Board Members Dave Riser of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Nef Garcia of McLane Company, and Anne Flint of Cumberland Farms, along with NATO Federal Legislative Director Jackie Cohen and NATO Executive Director Tom Briant.
Training Program Discussion: During the meeting, concerns were discussed and questions asked regarding the requirements for tobacco retailer clerk training programs including the following:
Ø When asked if the FDA will certify an existing retailer training program such as the We Card program, the FDA staff responded that they are still reviewing training program comments submitted by various groups and have not yet decided whether to certify an existing program.
Ø When asked how the FDA will conduct inspections of retail stores, the FDA staff replied that retailers will not know that an inspection is being conducted in their store by an FDA commissioned official. The inspection program will involve the FDA contracting with state government agencies and training state government employees to conduct retail store inspections. Currently, the FDA has contracted with fifteen states for these inspections including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington.
Ø The FDA plans to contact with approximately 22 more states by September 30, 2011 to conduct retail inspections with the remaining 13 states to be under contract by September 30, 2012.
Ø State inspectors will be trained by FDA personnel and retail store inspections will begin sometime early next year. Inspections will include compliance checks utilizing a minor who will attempt to purchase tobacco products. In addition, the inspector will (1) determine whether store employees request proper customer identification and verify customer ages, and (2) examine the store to ensure that flavored cigarettes and individual cigarettes are not being sold, (3) check self-service displays are not present in stores that allow access by minors, and (4) verify that new health warnings are printed on cigarette and smokeless tobacco advertisements posted in a store.
Ø A retailer will not be immediately notified of the inspection or compliance check results since the FDA staff at the Center for Tobacco Products must review inspector reports and verify the inspections were conducted according to a uniform set of FDA guidelines.
Ø The names and locations of stores that pass the inspections will be listed on a new FDA website so that retailers can determine if they have been inspected and whether their store passed.
Ø NATO staff discussed their concerns about the possibility of retailers being encouraged to pay a bonus or provide paid time off to an employee who successfully passes a compliance check.
Ø NATO representatives also questioned whether all retailers should conduct internal compliance checks because many retailers may not be financially able to implement such a program.
Future Meeting: At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Deyton stated that he sincerely appreciated the NATO representatives traveling to the FDA offices for the meeting, that the discussion was very informative, and that he and his staff desire to receive the industry’s input on future tobacco regulations. Dr. Deyton also agreed to meet with NATO representatives in January to discuss ways that NATO can further communicate with its members about FDA regulations.