Tobacco retailers throughout King County were caught selling tobacco to underage teens 92 times from January 1 through December 5 this year, for an illegal sales rate of over 8 percent.
This reflects a drop from the 12 percent rate in 2011, but elevated from the 6 percent average from 2006-2010. Statewide, tobacco sales to minors are at a ten-year high at 16 percent.
“Underage access to tobacco fuels addiction and early death for King County’s children,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. Almost 90 percent of adult smokers started in their teens, and one out of every three youth smokers will die early from smoking-caused disease.
In Washington state, selling tobacco to a minor is prohibited by law, with a $100 fine and tobacco education for the retailer and a $50 fine for the clerk making the sale. Repeat offenders within two years are fined up to $1500 and may have their tobacco sales license revoked.
“The tobacco industry continues to aggressively pursue new smokers, including marketing products that appeal to kids. We need to continue working to counter tobacco addiction in our community,” said Scott Neal, Tobacco Prevention Program Manager for Public Health – Seattle & King County
In 2010 alone, the tobacco industry spent $80 million dollars in Washington state on marketing activities. In response to tougher federal regulations for marketing and advertising of cigarettes, the tobacco industry has created new products that appeal to youth, such as dissolvable tobacco that resembles gum, candy and breath-strips, mini-cigars and snus (teabag-like pouches of tobacco) in flavors such as chocolate, strawberry and grape.
Countywide, more than 15,000 students -- including one in four 12th graders -- use cigarettes or other tobacco products. Tobacco use remains among the leading causes of death in King County, leading to nearly 2,000 deaths per year and $343 million in medical care costs, lost productivity and other expenses.
Retailer compliance checks are conducted throughout the year by Public Health and the Washington State Liquor Control Board, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to federal laws around tobacco and cigarettes. Working with local law enforcement, teens try to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products at King County retailers, some chosen randomly and others based on past violation history.
Anyone who witnesses a merchant or other adults providing tobacco to a minor is encouraged to call Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention Program at 206-296-7613
to file a confidential complaint.