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Department of Behavioral Health Announces Reduction in Illegal Tobacco Sales to Minors

Friday, December 4, 2015
Invites public comment on plans to further reduce youth tobacco access

Washington, DC –The Department of Behavioral Health announces the latest results of its program to curb illegal tobacco sales to minors.  Random, unannounced inspections of 433 retail outlets this past summer identified 16 merchants who sold tobacco products to minors.  These merchants received a $100.00 to $150.00 fine.

The inspections show that 95.7 per cent of merchants are obeying the law that prohibits the sale of tobacco products to individuals younger than 18 years of age. The number of merchants cited represents 4.3 per cent of inspected outlets—a  significant decrease from the 12.8 per cent cited last year and far below the District’s highest rate of 41.9 per cent in 2004.

Keeping tobacco out of minors’ hands is critical. We know that tobacco causes premature deaths so just one illegal sale to a minor is still too many,” said Tanya A. Royster MD, Director of the Department of Behavioral Health. “Our inspections send a clear message that we are watching and the law will be enforced.”

The Surgeon General’s 2014 Report highlights significant progress in tobacco control and prevention but concludes that smoking remains the single largest cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.  The Health Consequences of Smoking:  50 Years of Progress Report projects that 5.6 million Americans younger than 18 years of age will die prematurely from smoking-related illness if smoking persists at the current rate among young adults.   In the District of Columbia, that represents about 7,000 children alive today whose lives will be shortened because of smoking.  Further, the average age of initiation of tobacco use among District middle school students is 10.5 years old and about 12.5 per cent of all District high school students smoke.

The Department’s  FY 2016 Synar Report outlines the District’s progress and  future plans to reduce youth tobacco access. Public comments on the Report  should be sent no later than December 28, 2015, to Thomas Randolph, Synar Coordinator, at  [email protected] annual inspections conducted with the Metropolitan Police Department are part of the District’s compliance with the federal Synar Program that requires states and federal jurisdictions to enact laws and enforcement programs prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to minors.  In addition to its enforcement efforts, the Department of Behavioral Health sponsors a tobacco merchant education program for more than 900 retailers licensed to sell tobacco products. 

Studies show about 70 per cent of all smokers want to quit.   The District of Columbia Department of Health offers support that can increase the chances of quitting and staying quit.  Certified cessation counselors are available 24 hours a day to talk about a plan to quit or how to help a family member or friend quit.   Call 1-800-Quit Now (1-800-784-8669) Nicotine replacement patches or lozenges are available to callers 18 years or older.  The Department of Health also sponsors community prevention and cessation efforts targeted toward youth.


For behavioral health services, a District resident can call the Access Helpline at 1-888-7WE-HELP ( 1-888-793-4357) any time  seven days a week to talk to a clinician  and be referred to a certified provider for treatment and support.