About 16 percent of tobacco retailers in Washington state illegally sold tobacco to minors this year, up from 11 percent in 2011 and 10 percent in 2010, hitting the highest level in more than a decade, according to a new report.
Under law, if the rate of retailers selling tobacco to minors exceeds 20 percent, the state could lose nearly $14 million dollars in federal funding for drug, alcohol, and tobacco prevention and treatment.
The new 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 to assure their compliance with the law.
These compliance checks are conducted by local health agencies and the state Liquor Control Board. The checks include having teens, working with law enforcement, visit randomly selected retailers to try to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Clerks who sell tobacco to minors can be fined up to $100 and retail owners can be fined up to $1,500. After multiple violations, a retailers license to sell tobacco is permanently revoked.
The data on retailer compliance is compiled annually by U.S Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and published in a document called the Synar Report, named after Congressman Mike Synar of Oklahoma, who sponsored an amendment that mandated states to enforce laws restricting tobacco sales to minors.
Youth smoking rate in Washington state is currently about 13 percent, about half what it was in 2000, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
But in recent years, however, the decline in youth smoking rates has leveled off, state health officials said, and “the use of alternative tobacco products like chew, cigars, and hookahs is a growing concern.”
The state estimates that about 70,000 youths in Washington state currently smoke, with about 50 taking up the habit each day.
Efforts to educate youth about the dangers of smoking and retailers of their obligations under the law have been hampered by state and local government budget woes, health officials said.
“Meanwhile, the tobacco industry continues to invest huge amounts of money to attract new smokers. In 2010, the industry spent about $80 million on marketing activities in Washington alone,” they said.
Overall, about 7,900 people die every year in Washington from tobacco-related diseases.