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Department of Behavioral Health Invites Public Comment on Report Detailing Progress Curbing Illegal Tobacco Sales to Youth

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Comments due December 19, 2014
Washington, DC –The Department of Behavioral Health is requesting public comment on the Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Synar Report which details its work to reduce youth tobacco access. Last year, the Department conducted 378 random, unannounced inspections of retail outlets to identify violators of the law prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than 18 years of age. In addition, the Report outlines future plans to reduce youth tobacco access, including merchant education and an increased number of compliance checks.
The annual inspections are part of the District’s compliance with the federal Synar Program which was established to implement a federal law that requires the District along with states and federal jurisdictions to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals less than 18 years of age. States must comply to maintain federal funds that support substance use prevention and treatment activities.
The Synar Program is an important initiative to curb illegal tobacco sales to minors. During its inspections conducted with off duty Metropolitan Police Department officers, the Department of Behavioral Health found that the majority of retail outlets were obeying the law. However, 38 outlets or 12.8 per cent were cited for sales to minors. 
“Retail outlets are getting the message that we are checking, and the law against selling and distributing tobacco products to minors will be enforced,” said Stephen T. Baron, Director of the Department of Behavioral Health. “Though the number of merchants cited is below the program established failure rate, our goal is zero violations.”
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) oversees the Synar Program. The District’s report is due December 31, 2014. Comments on the report should be sent no later than December 19, 2014, to Thomas Randolph, Synar Coordinator, at [email protected].
A 2014 Report from the Surgeon, “The Health Consequences of Smoking:  50 Years of Progress”, 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 report also 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 who will die prematurely because of smoking.  Further, about 12.5% of all District high school students smoke.   
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 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) or Spanish-speaking callers can call (202) 333-4488. 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 mental health services, a District resident can call the Access Helpline at 1-888-793-4357 seven days a week to talk to a mental health counselor or contact a provider directly from the list of certified providers at  To access substance use services and supports, please call (202) 727-8473.