More than 17 percent of Washington’s tobacco retailers illegally sold tobacco to minors in 2015, according to the annual Synar Report. Washington’s 2015 retailer non-compliance level is the highest it’s been since the state began tracking in 1997, when the rate was 19.8 percent. If the rate exceeds 20 percent, the state could lose federal funding for drug, alcohol, and tobacco prevention and treatment.
Teen access to tobacco can lead to a lifetime of addiction: “It is unacceptable that more than one in six retailers are illegally selling tobacco to minors,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “When kids get their hands on tobacco, it can lead to a lifetime of addiction, poor health, and early death. In our state tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death. Tobacco retailers need to follow the law and help us grow the healthiest next generation.”
Reporting illegal sales: Compliance checks are conducted by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board as well as Public Health – Seattle & King County. Working with local law enforcement, underage 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. Retail owners can be fined up to $1,500 and may have their license revoked for up to five years.
While official youth checks determine the rate of illegal sales, anyone can report a violation on the state Liquor and Cannabis Board website.
Prevention funding cuts taking a toll: State agencies are convening to review retailer compliance issues statewide and to recommend outreach and education activities to address the problem within current budget parameters. Historically, retailer education was done in concert with other CDC best practices and was managed by local public health departments, but funding for these activities was cut in 2009.