Tobacco Compliance Checks or “Undercover Buys”

Cartoon illustrating someone trying to buy tobacco without ID and being turned away

Tobacco Compliance Checks or
“Undercover Buys”…

… are inspections that are conducted by contractors of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and/or FDA commissioned officers.  Teams, that include an adult and a 15–20 year old youth, enter stores that sell tobacco or vaping products and will attempt to purchase tobacco.  (The team might not enter the store together) The youth alone will attempt to purchase a tobacco or vaping product.  The adult team member will be in the store or within sight of the purchase to serve as a witness to the transaction. All of the information collected during the visit is collected via written or digital surveys.

Passed inspection:

If the store passes an inspection, by representatives from the PA Dept. of Health, the store will receive a “congratulatory letter” in the mail to notify the business that an inspection took place, noting specific date and time of the inspection. The Pennsylvania Department of Health thanks the store for not selling tobacco to a youth under the age of 21 years and for complying with the law.

Failed inspection:

If the store fails by selling a tobacco or vaping product to a youth under 21 years of age, the store may be issued a citation by a local police department or a private criminal complaint will be filed with the local district courts on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Who can or will receive a ticket?

  • The business that sold the tobacco product to the person under 21 years of age. (Most Common)
  • The individual (or clerk) that sold the product to the under age buyer.
  • Any adult that purchases the tobacco or vaping product for someone under 21.

How much are the fines?

For Businesses:

  • 1st offense – $100 – $500
  • 2nd offense – $500 – $1,000
  • 3rd offense* – $1,000 – $3,000
  • Offenses after 3 ** – $5,000 – $10,000

For Individuals:

  • 1st offense – $100 – $250
  • 2nd offense – $250- $500
  • Offenses after 2 – $500 – $1,000

*In addition, upon the third conviction of a retailer in a 24-month period, the PA Department of Revenue may, after the opportunity for a hearing, suspend the retailer’s cigarette license for up to 30 days.
**Upon a fourth conviction in any 24-month period, the department may, after the opportunity for a hearing, suspend the license for up to 60 days.

For Information on the results from  FDA Undercover Buys,
please see the link provided below.