Are Illegal Tobacco Sales to Minors Rising?

If one state’s experience is anything to go by, we may be seeing an alarming rise in illegal tobacco sales to minors.

Washington State’s health department has released a study showing that these illegal sales have risen dramatically since 2009. In that year, the percent of retailers selling tobacco to minors was 9%; by 2012 it had risen to 15%. During 2013 this rate was maintained.

Around 85% of Washington adult smokers start at or before age 18, health officials said. So, keeping minors away from tobacco products is the best way to prevent lifelong addictions to these deadly products.

Washington officials came up with these figures based on data collected for the annual Synar Report, which is the result of federal legislation that requires states to conduct annual, random, unannounced compliance checks in an effort to help ensure that retailers are complying with the law, and that minors do not have access to tobacco products.

The report is compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

State and federal officials do report some good news: Washington’s 10th-grade youth smoking rate (10%) is half of what it was in 2000. But this increase in the number of retailers selling tobacco to minors is alarming, and could certainly hinder efforts to move that 10% down to a much healthier 0%.

We’ll keep an eye out for Synar reports from other states, and see if this disturbing report from Washington signals a national trend.

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