Sonora, CA — Tuolumne County Public Health Department’s Tobacco Control Program conducted a youth purchase survey to assess the rate of illegal tobacco sales to minors. The recent survey found that three of the ten stores surveyed sold tobacco to youth ages 16-17. California State Law prohibits the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18.
California state law now requires tobacco retailers to have a license to sell, and carries penalties for merchants who sell tobacco to minors. If a youth purchase survey finds that statewide illegal tobacco sales are above 20% then the states could loose what Kristina Herrera, Tuolumne County Tobacco Control Program Coordinator, says is “critical federal grant money that supports a variety of vital services including drug and alcohol treatment, and prevention services such as after school programs for at-risk youth.”
The penalties increase significantly in cities and counties that have local retail licensing ordinances. Tuolumne County has been decreasing its sales to underage youth from a 50% sales rate in 2005 to 0% sales in 2011.
According to Herrera, the main cause for the higher sale rate is due to store clerks failing to ask for and accurately check identification. During this survey, two of the stores that sold did not ask for identification. The third store that sold requested identification but due to inaccurate reading of the youth’s identification which indicated that the teen is not 18 until 2014, still sold the tobacco product.
For stores that made a sale, the survey serves as a warning to come into compliance. In normal circumstances, stores face penalties and fines up to $5000 and jail time if a sale is made to a minor. In order to urge compliance, stores will receive an informational packet which contains appropriate signs and training materials and provides education on the California tobacco laws and the importance of community retailers in preventing youth access to tobacco. Store may also call the Tuolumne Tobacco Control Program at 533-7419 for technical assistance or questions.
The Tuolumne County Tobacco Prevention & Education Program is a Proposition 99-funded program that began in 1989 with the goal of reducing tobacco use in California. Locally, it is a member of the YES! Partnership, a group of community leaders representing law enforcement, education, health and the general public.