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Department of Behavioral Health Invites Public Comment on its Plan to Curb Illegal Tobacco Sales to Minors

Thursday, December 23, 2021

For Immediate Release
Contact: Derrick King (202) 961-5240

Washington, DC –The Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) is inviting public comment on its FY 2022 Synar Report, which outlines the District’s progress and plans to reduce youth tobacco access through illegal sales. DBH manages the District of Columbia’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. District law prohibits the sale of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21.

In the District of Columbia, the number of teens who report smoking continues a ten-year decline while the first tobacco use remains about age 10. In the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the percentage of high school students who reported cigarette use within the past 30 days was 5.3 percent—down from 8.1 percent in 2017. However, the reported age of first tobacco use among middle school students was 10.3 years of age compared to 10.4 years in 2017. The Youth Risk Behavioral Survey is conducted every two years by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education.

“Keeping tobacco out of the hands of minors is critical. Foremost, we know that tobacco causes premature deaths,” said Barbara J. Bazron, Ph.D., Director of the Department of Behavioral Health. “Tobacco use among teens also correlates to academic performance today with students who are failing in school more likely to use tobacco products.”

In the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 10 percent of students who receive mostly A’s reported smoking cigarettes while 23.9 percent of students who receive mostly D’s/F’s report smoking—more than twice as many. In addition, 12.9 percent of students with mostly A’s reported using an electronic smoking device compared to 23.8 percent of students with mostly D’s/F’s. This sharp difference in school performance also is reflected when comparing the use of marijuana or alcohol.

DBH conducts unannounced random inspections of hundreds of retail outlets to monitor compliance with the law. The percentage of merchants who comply with the law averages about 93 percent. Merchants who illegally sell tobacco products are subject to fines ranging from $100.00 to $150.00. In addition to its enforcement efforts, DBH sponsors a tobacco merchant education program to educate retailers and to promote compliance.

Public comments on the FY 2022 Synar Report should be sent no later than January 20, 2022, to Thomas Randolph, Synar Coordinator, at [email protected].