The number of state retailers illegally selling tobacco to minors has risen to its highest level in more than a decade.
The federally mandated Synar Report, which tracks illegal sales, shows about 16 percent of tobacco retailers in Washington sold tobacco to minors from January to June – up from 11 percent in 2011 and 10 percent in 2010.
The rate was even higher in Pierce County, where 22 percent of retailers sold to minors.
In its release of the report this week, officials at the state Department of Health noted that limited budgets have forced it to cut back on education programs for retail employees designed to make sure they understand their obligations under the law and the penalties for violating it.
Meanwhile, the tobacco industry continues to invest large amounts of money to attract new smokers. In 2010, the industry spent about $80 million on marketing activities in Washington, according to the Health Department.
The current youth smoking rate in the state is about 13 percent. That’s half of what the rate was in 2000, but the rate of decline has 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 Synar 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.
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.
If the rate of retailers selling tobacco to minors exceeds 20 percent, the state could lose nearly $14 million in federal funding for drug, alcohol, and tobacco prevention and treatment.Rob Carson: 253-597-8693 email@example.com