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Department of Behavioral Health Announces Results of Program to Curb Illegal Tobacco Sales to Minors

Monday, December 16, 2019

For Immediate Release
December 16, 2019
Contact: Erica Cunningham (202) 727-9033

Invites public comment on plans to further reduce youth tobacco access

Washington, DC –The Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) announces the latest results of its program to curb illegal tobacco sales to minors. Through its Synar efforts, over the summer, DBH conducted random, unannounced inspections of 519 retail outlets. The number of merchants obeying the law that prohibits the sale of tobacco products to minors was 95.1 per cent, which the highest that it has been over the past five (5) years.

At the same time, the inspections identified 23 merchants who illegally sold tobacco products to minors. These merchants received fines ranging from $100.00 to $150.00. The number of merchants cited represents 4.9 per cent of inspected outlets—well below the maximum 20 per cent that states and jurisdictions cannot exceed.

The 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 600 retailers licensed to sell tobacco products.

On October 1, 2018, the District enacted its Tobacco 21 law which raised the age to legally purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Following this change, DBH launched its Tobacco 21 social marketing campaign to educate District residents and tobacco merchants about the new law. DC Health provided support to this effort by its Tobacco Control Group helping to expand the reach of the social marketing campaign through saturation of additional marketing materials.

The DBH FY 2020 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 29, 2019, to Thomas Randolph, Synar Coordinator, at [email protected].

With e-cigarettes and other vaping products continuing to become increasingly popular, and at the directive of Mayor Bowser, DBH will expand the focus of its Synar efforts in FY2020 to include e-cigarettes and other vaping products. E-cigarettes and vaping merchant education have already begun. The DBH Substance Use Disorder team has conducted 140 merchant site visits, sharing the expanded illegal tobacco sales to minors regulation, which will include e-cigarettes and vaping products beginning in 2020.

Additionally greater emphasis will go toward promoting abstinence from tobacco consumption, particularly among youth, and tobacco cessation through DBH’s DC CITY grant. Data from the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) compiled by the District’s Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) showed a higher percentage of both middle school and high school students having used an e-cigarette or vaping product in comparison to traditional tobacco products.[1]

Studies show about 70 percent of all smokers want to quit. The District of Columbia Department 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. DC Health also sponsors community prevention and cessation efforts targeted toward youth.



[1] Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) 2017 “Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Report”: (