Kitsap leads state in rate of tobacco sales to minors

blog.tobaccoKitsap County store clerks led the state last year in their willingness to illegally sell cigarettes to minors.

That’s according to a report released Thursday by the state Department of Health. The annual Synar Report uses unannounced compliance checks to track illegal tobacco sales. During the checks, underage teens, working with law enforcement, attempt to buy cigarettes from randomly-selected retailers.

The Liquor Control Board carried out 28 random checks in Kitsap last year. Nearly 40 percent of the checks resulted in illegal sales to minors. That figure eclipsed the statewide average of 15 percent and landed Kitsap atop the list of worst offenders for the year. (Click on the graphic to expand).

DOH spokesman Tim Church cautioned that the small sample size means sales at a few stores can sway the numbers from year to year. Local health agencies should use the data to identify compliance trends over time, he said.

The trend in Kitsap isn’t encouraging. The county’s compliance rate steadily worsened since 2010, when about 9 percent of random checks resulted in sales.

“It’s bad news for Kitsap County for sure,” Kitsap Public Health District Administrator Scott Daniels said. “It’s bad news for health of the kids who buy tobacco, it’s bad for the whole community.”

Daniels said Kitsap used to have a robust outreach program that worked to prevent tobacco use among minors promote compliance among retailers. State and federal funding for that program was gutted in recent years, he said.

“We don’t have a functional tobacco program anymore,” he said.

Church said a lack of money for tobacco programs could be contributing to higher illegal sales rates statewide. Education is the most effective tool for dissuading clerks from selling to minors, he said. But those outreach programs are underfunded.

According to DOH, youth who smoke are more likely to smoke as adults and die prematurely from a smoking-caused disease. They are also more likely to have other challenges such as poor grades and illegal drug use. About 85 percent of Washington adult smokers start at or before age 18.

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 up to five years. Violations can be reported through the Liquor Control Board website.

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