Every day in California, nearly 300 children take up smoking. Of those, 200 go on to become addicted and half of those will die prematurely because they smoked. Most of the 42,000 Californians who die from smoking-related causes started before they were of legal age to purchase tobacco. The younger they start smoking, the greater the addiction, and the likelier it is they’ll die from tobacco-related disease.

While California law has long prohibited the sale of tobacco to minors, compliance checks in the County of San Luis Obispo demonstrate that businesses continue to sell to underage kids. This month the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department Tobacco Control Program along with local law enforcement agencies conducted a series of tobacco sales compliance checks in the cities of Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Atascadero.

Sixteen and seventeen-year-old decoys visited retail locations that sell tobacco products in the three cities. Periodic checks of this type are conducted in cities and unincorporated areas throughout the county, in an ongoing effort to reduce youth access to tobacco products. Under Penal Code 308(a), it is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. Of 47 tobacco retailers surveyed, 14 sold tobacco to a minor decoy. The overall illegal sales rate was 29.8 percent, higher than the California state rate of 14.6 percent.

Educational programs, media campaigns, clean indoor and outdoor air policies, land use restrictions and tobacco control enforcement have all contributed to a decrease in adult smoking rates in San Luis Obispo County and throughout California. Nevertheless, teens have easy access to tobacco and youth smoking rates remain high.

“The primary goal of our program is to decrease the sale of tobacco products to the youth in our community,” said Amber Alewine, Health Educator for the Tobacco Control Program. “Eliminating youth access to tobacco products is critical because the easier it is for kids to smoke their first cigarette, the more they will try it, become hooked, and ultimately pay for their addiction with their lives.”

Over the past three months, merchant education calls were conducted by the Tobacco Control Program throughout the County and offered to every retail tobacco store. Informational materials and signs were distributed, and managers were educated about training clerks to ask for identification and about their responsibility for posting signs, etc. However, many merchants are still not asking young tobacco customers for identification.

Local law enforcement and the Tobacco Control Program are working to increase funding for enforcement activities. Research shows that the most successful way to combat teen smoking is to reduce youth access to tobacco. Increased tobacco retailer education combined with consistent enforcement of tobacco laws as well as policies that make enforcement simpler – merchants caught repeatedly selling tobacco to minors would face suspension or revocation of a license — will save young lives.

Anyone interested in learning more about how to reduce youth smoking and access to tobacco in their community, or the sale of tobacco products to minors is encouraged to call Amber Alewine or Christina Lefevre at the Tobacco Control Program at (805) 781-5564.

Tobacco retailers cited for sale of tobacco to a minor:

Morro Bay

1. Morro Bay Mobil Mart
2. Albertsons
3. Freshair Fare
4. Lucky 7
5. Morro Bay Chevron

San Luis Obispo

6. Central Coast Shell
7. Sidewalk Market
8. Laguna Smokes
9. Manuel Liquor
10. Santa Rosa Shell

Atascadero

11. Albertsons
12. Vons, 7135 El Camino Real
13. Shores
14. CVS

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