Tobacco sting reveals sales to minors are up in county | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tobacco sting reveals sales to minors are up in county

Tribune staff report

A recent survey conducted by El Dorado County health and law enforcement officials shows an increase in illegal sales of tobacco products to teens.

During the past two months, 32 out of 142 surveyed retail stores — or about 23 percent — sold tobacco to underage youth, according to the results announced in a press release.

That number is higher than the results of similar youth purchase survey conducted in the county in 2012 that found 11 percent of surveyed retailers selling tobacco to kids.

“We aren’t sure why the sales rates have gone up so much in this most recent survey compared to only a few years ago,” said Christy White, project director for the El Dorado County Tobacco Use Prevention Program, in a written statement. “We have conducted education to merchants numerous times over the past ten years, but stores often have frequent clerk and owner turnover. It is a continual challenge to ensure they are aware of, and following, the law.”

The most recent survey — the Youth Tobacco Purchase Survey — was conducted on Jan. 10 on the west slope of the county and Feb. 13 in South Lake Tahoe. The multi-agency effort included the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, Placerville Police Department, South Lake Tahoe Police Department and TUPP staff.

In the survey, trained youth volunteers 14 to 17 years old entered retail stores and attempted to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products, according to the joint press release. Merchants who sold the products received a citation. Those who didn’t were thanked by law enforcement.

In the county’s survey announcement, White said most of the stores that sold tobacco to kids were located in unincorporated areas of the county, but nearly every community had at least one store that broke the law.

South Lake Tahoe was the only exception.

“No stores surveyed in Tahoe engaged in illegal sales this time,” White stated. “We believe maybe the word got out to the merchants, so they were aware of the survey. In any case, we are glad no illegal sales occurred there.”

Letters were sent to the merchants as a reminder to follow the laws regarding the sale of tobacco products to minors. Tobacco retailers are required by law to check identification, verify the age of the potential customer and post “age-of-sale” warning signs.

The county’s announcement reminds retailers to post “Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement (STAKE) Act” signs with the 1-800-5-ASK-4-ID phone number at the cash register and that “We Card” and “It’s the Law” signs provided by tobacco companies are not proper substitutes.

Tobacco retailers with questions about the law, or who need copies of STAKE Act signs, can contact White at (530) 621-6142. Or, for more information about TUPP, visit http://www.edcgov.us/publichealth.