A recent survey conducted in El Dorado County showed that fewer merchants are willing to sell tobacco products to minors compared to just two years ago. Of the 100 tobacco retailers surveyed countywide, only 11 stores sold tobacco products to youth, resulting in a sales rate of 11 percent. In March 2010 a similar survey resulted in a sales rate of 14.5 percent.
The Youth Tobacco Purchase Survey, conducted by the El Dorado County Tobacco Use Prevention Program in partnership with the Sheriff’s Department, Placerville Police Department and South Lake Tahoe Police Department, was designed to see how easily minors could purchase cigarettes and chewing tobacco from local retailers. Youth volunteers ages 14 to 17 years old from the Sheriff’s Explorer Post 457 and the police departments were trained in the survey protocols prior to their participation.
California law prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than the age of 18. Tobacco retailers are required to check identification to verify age and to post state mandated age-of-sale warning signs. As of January 2005, the self-service display of tobacco products is also against the law. This includes cigarettes, chewing tobacco, bidis, pipe tobacco, roll your own tobacco, e-cigarettes and any other product containing tobacco, as well as tobacco paraphernalia such as cigarette papers, pipes and lighters.
“We’re pleased with the results of the survey,” said Christy White, project director with the El Dorado County Tobacco Use Prevention Program. “We’ve shown that merchant education and compliance activities encourage merchants to comply with the law.”
According to White, tobacco sales rates to minors need to remain low in order for key programs in the county to receive funding. “Federal law, known as the Synar Amendment, requires states to keep the illegal tobacco sales rate below 20 percent,” said White. “If rates rise, it could mean the loss of more than $400,000 in state funding that is earmarked for alcohol and drug treatment programs in El Dorado County.”
In addition to the tobacco purchase survey, youth volunteers checked to see if stores had posted the required signage. Most stores were in compliance. According to White, retailers must post “Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement (STAKE) Act” signs with the 1-800-5-ASK-4-ID phone number at each cash register. Signs furnished by tobacco companies such as “We Card” and “It’s the Law” are not substitutes for those required by law.
To report illegal sales to minors members of the public can call 1-800-5-ASK-4-ID. Tobacco retailers can request a copy of the tobacco law or STAKE Act signs by calling the El Dorado County Tobacco Use Prevention Program at (530) 621-6142. TUPP is a program of the El Dorado County Public Health Division, Health and Human Services Agency.
For additional information about TUPP visit edcgov.us/publichealth.