Washington’s Teen Smoking Rate Dropping, Tobacco Sales to Minors Rising
It's a bit of a Catch-22 situation for the Department of Health.
According to information released Wednesday by the Washington State Department of Health, smoking among 10th grade students is half of what it was 14 years ago, but tobacco sales to minors has nearly doubled since 2009. About 10% of tenth-graders smoke-down from 20% in 2000. However, teen tobacco sales have gone from 9 to 16% since 2009. The Department of Health says that indicates a better effort is needed by retailers to properly screen their customers.
According to Washington State Secretary of Health John Weisman:
“It’s unacceptable that more than one in seven retailers in our state illegally sells tobacco to minors. Stopping youth from buying tobacco is one of the best prevention tools we have. It only works when retailers follow the law. They must do better. The health of Washington’s youth is at stake.” (Bold lettering added for emphasis).
The rate of stores selling tobacco to minors is tracked federally by what is called the Synar Report, prepared by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Compliance checks are conducted by local health department officials and the state Liquor Control Board, some call them "sting" operations.
Teens or underage youth are sent into stores to try to purchase tobacco. There are various penalties for retailers, ranging from $100 first-offense fines for the clerk, and retailers can face a fine of $1,500 and lose their tobacco license for five years - especially if the store is found guilty of repeated teen sales. It's no secret, even when we were that age, that there were "certain" convenience stores where teens knew they could buy from that "cool dude" who would look the other way.
If Washington's teen smoking rate is found to exceed 20%, the state could lose millions of federal dollars for drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention and treatment. According to the Department of Health, 85% of adult smokers began before they were 18. The DOH studies also show teen smokers are far more likely to progress to illegal drug use, and usually perform more poorly in school. They say if teens can be encouraged from not smoking, they are far less likely to start when they are an adult.
According to the Department of Health, citizens who can verify or witness a teen tobacco purchase can report a violation to the Liquor Control Board. Some would consider this being a "snitch," but it IS the law, and think about it for a minute: how would YOU feel if you found out your teenage son or daughter under the age of 18 were smoking?