Last month, a 17 year old youth who works for the WA Tobacco Prevention Program tested the commitment of tobacco vendors of San Juan County to not sell tobacco to minors. This happens every year in Washington; it is the best way to see if vendors are following the law.
The law exists because tobacco is still the number one cause of preventable death in the US, and if people do not start smoking as teenagers, they usually do not start. 80% of smokers started as teens. Most of those people want to quit, but because of high levels of the most addictive substance in existence, nicotine in the cigarettes, most of them fail.
The habit takes an average of 15 years off of one’s life, and one’s last years can be spent battling cancer, emphysema, and heart disease caused by tobacco. In addition, at today’s prices, tobacco addicts are enslaved by it: One store charged $9.50 for the pack. A pack a day habit would be $3200/year! Over 20 years, that would mean $64,000 spent on cigarettes; probably more, as they will continue to rise in price.
Twelve of the fifteen stores checked did not sell. However, the three that did sell to the youth means that San Juan County tobacco vendors are 20% non-compliant with the WA State law. This means that not only will the clerks and the stores be fined; but also that San Juan County will have to spend more prevention grant money to fund extra compliance checks. This is money that could have been used for prevention activities and education for our youth.
Although it is true that, because we have fewer stores it takes fewer sales to increase our rate of non-compliance to the law. However, it is unacceptable that any sales are made. This is because all store staff must ask for and check the identification from anyone who looks to be under 30. To assist this process, most stores have a sign that instructs staff not to sell tobacco if the customer’s birth date is after the date of sale, 18 years ago: 1991 for this year. In addition, all state ID’s for those under 18 read vertically, and state when the cardholder will be 18. It should be easy. All three stores that sold checked the youth’s valid ID, which stated that she was 17 years old. So, why did they sell?
Humans make mistakes. But San Juan County is the second worst county for selling tobacco to youth in these checks. Even if we consider the fact of fewer total vendors, it is not acceptable, when even King and Pierce County have much lower rates.
What can you do? Please encourage owners and managers to train and expect their staff not to sell to minors. The stores who make no sales to minors a policy, and give the clear expectation to staff that they do not sell to minors do not fail this test. Please report illegal sales in any store in San Juan County to PH 888-838-3956, or http://www.liq.wa.gov