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Tobacco sales to minors at highest level in the last decade

December 18, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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The report is the result of federal legislation that requires states to enact and enforce laws that prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors, and to conduct annual random, unannounced inspections of retailers.

The number of Washington retailers illegally selling tobacco to minors has risen to its highest level in more than a decade. This is according to an annual report compiled by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that tracks illegal sales.  The report shows about 16 percent of tobacco retailers in our state sold tobacco to minors from January to June of this year — up from 11 percent in 2011 and 10 percent in 2010.

Compliance checks are conducted by local health agencies and the state Liquor Control Board. Working with local law enforcement, teens try to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products at randomly selected retailers. Clerks who sell tobacco to minors can be fined up to $100 and retail owners can be fined up to $1,500. Licenses to sell tobacco are permanently revoked after multiple violations.

The current youth smoking rate in Washington is about 13 percent, which is half of what it was in 2000.  Unfortunately the rate of decline has leveled off in recent years, and the use of alternative tobacco products like chew, cigars, and hookahs is a growing concern.

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