A recent Youth Tobacco Purchase Survey conducted on the Western Slope of the county showed that fewer merchants were willing to sell tobacco products to minors. Of the 76 tobacco retailers surveyed, only eight were willing to sell tobacco products to youth resulting in a sales rate of 10.5 percent. Last spring a similar survey resulted in a sales rate of 20 percent.
The El Dorado County Tobacco Use Prevention Program joined with the Sheriff’s Department to conduct a Youth Tobacco Purchase Survey to determine how easily minors can purchase cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Youth volunteers aged 14-17 from the Sheriff’s Explorer Post 457 were trained in the Youth Tobacco Purchase Survey protocols prior their participation. During the surveys the youth were asked for their identification; however the clerks still sold the tobacco products to them.
Selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18 is against the law. Tobacco retailers have the responsibility to check identification, verify age and post state mandated age-of-sale warning signs. As of January 2005 the self-service display of tobacco products is against the law. This includes cigarettes, chewing tobacco, bidis, pipe tobacco, roll your own tobacco, e-cigarettes and any other product containing tobacco. The self-service display of tobacco paraphernalia such as cigarette papers, pipes and lighters is also against the law.
“We’re pleased with the results of the surveys,” said Christy Kessler, project director with the El Dorado County Tobacco Use Prevention Program. “We’ve demonstrated that a combination of merchant education and compliance activities can have a positive effect toward creating a norm of not selling tobacco to minors.”
But Kessler wants to be sure that rates remain low because of the potential fiscal impacts for the County. Federal law, known as the Synar Amendment, requires states to keep the illegal tobacco sales rate below 20 percent. According to Kessler, the sales rate was 21 percent in 2006 and 20 percent in spring of 2010. “If rates rise it could jeopardize funding for alcohol and drug treatment funding,” said Kessler.
In addition to the tobacco purchase attempt, the youth volunteers were asked to observe if the stores had posted the required signage and 84 percent had the required signage. 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 the general public can call 1-800-5 ASK-4-ID.
Tobacco retailers wanting a copy of the law or STAKE Act signs to place at their checkout counters can call the El Dorado County Tobacco Use Prevention Program at (530) 621-6142.