Report: Illegal tobacco sales to minors increase

December 14, 2012

By Staff

NEW — 8 a.m. Dec. 14, 2012

The number of Washington retailers illegally selling tobacco to minors is at the highest level in more than a decade, according to a report from the state Department of Health.

State health officials said about 16 percent of retailers offering tobacco illegally sold the substance to minors between January and June. The figure is up from 11 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010.

If the rate of retailers selling tobacco to minors exceeds 20 percent, Washington could lose almost $14 million in federal funding for drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention and treatment.

“This is unacceptable. Our young people should not have access to these deadly tobacco products,” state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a statement. “Most adult smokers start as teens, so if we can keep tobacco out of the hands of kids, it’s likely they’ll never take up this dangerous habit.”

The agency works alongside state and local partners to train tobacco retailers about the obligations under the law and the penalties for violations. The high level of employee turnover in stores offering tobacco makes retailer education crucial.

The youth smoking rate in Washington is about 13 percent. The figure dropped by about half since 2000, but the rate of decline leveled off in recent years, and the use of alternative tobacco products, such as chew, cigars and hookahs, is a growing concern for health officials.

The rate of stores selling tobacco to minors is monitored in the annual Synar Report. The report is the result of federal legislation to requires states to enact and enforce laws to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors, and to conduct annual random, unannounced inspections of retailers. The report is compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Local health agencies and the Washington State Liquor Control Board work with local law enforcement agencies to conduct the compliance checks. Teenagers attempt to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products at randomly selected retailers. Clerks who sell tobacco to minors face fines up to $100 and retail owners face fines up to $1,500. The state can permanently revoke licenses to sell tobacco after multiple violations.

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