Date: June 8, 2015
Tobacco Sales to Minors in Mendocino County
By Tina Tyler-O’Shea, HHSA Program Administrator
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States and, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking and smokeless tobacco use are initiated and established primarily during adolescence. According to the 2009-2011 California Healthy Kids Survey Report for Mendocino County, 32% of seventh graders, 66% of ninth graders, and 79% of eleventh graders reported that it’s fairly easy, to very easy to get cigarettes if they want to.
The Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), Public Health, Prevention and Planning Unit (PAPU) works in partnership with retailers, cities and unincorporated areas of Mendocino County through the Tobacco Retail Licensing (TRL) program in an effort to reduce youth access to tobacco. The TRL program requires retailers to have a Mendocino County license for selling tobacco. The license fees are earmarked to administer the TRL program and conduct random youth purchase surveys.
The youth purchase survey involves sending underage youth and adult witnesses into stores to attempt to buy tobacco products. If tobacco is sold to a minor, there are strict penalties for each offense. Retailers can choose suspension of their tobacco license or a monetary fine. Each time there is a violation, the suspension time and fines increase accordingly. Compliance checks are conducted during a suspension to make sure the retailer is following the law. The March 2015 survey of businesses in the unincorporated areas of Mendocino County found that 14 of the 50 stores surveyed (28%) sold tobacco to minors.
Protecting our youth from underage tobacco sales is a public health issue. The earlier someone begins smoking, the more likely they are to become addicted. There are too many negative health consequences from smoking at any age. If we can reduce the amount of sales to minors by educating our communities about this important issue, our youth and society as a whole will benefit greatly.