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

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

(Washington, DC) – The Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) is inviting public comment on its FY 2024 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 decade plus decline while the first tobacco use remains about age 10. Based on results from the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is the latest available report, the percentage of high school students who reported cigarette use within the past 30 days was 3.2 percent—down from 5.3 percent in 2019. Additionally, middle school students reporting trying cigarettes for the first time before the age of 11 has also continued to steadily decline, going from 6.1 percent in 2017 to 3.6 percent in 2021. The Youth Risk Behavioral Survey (YRBS) is conducted every two years by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, with the most recent having been conducted in 2023.

“Preventing tobacco use among minors is an integral element of our early intervention efforts,” said Barbara J. Bazron, Ph.D., Director of the Department of Behavioral Health. “Tobacco use among teens has the potential to negatively impact academic performance, and those who begin at a younger age are more likely to develop nicotine dependence and have trouble quitting later in life.”

DBH has expanded its scope of the Synar Program to include vaping devices as well. This expansion has included educating tobacco merchants and District residents on the District’s insertion of vaping devices in the defining of tobacco products, thus making them illegal to be sold to or consumed by individuals under the age of 21. In the 2021 YRBS, the percentage of high school students reporting having used a vaping product was 10.1. While this is down from 13 percent in 2019, the percent of students reporting to have used vaping devices has fluctuated up and down across the four (4) YRBS reports where the data were captured (2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021).

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 above 80 percent; many times rising above 90 percent. Merchants who illegally sell tobacco products are subject to fines ranging from $100.00 to $150.00. In addition to its enforcement efforts, the DBH sponsors a tobacco merchant education program to educate retailers and to promote compliance.

Public comments on the FFY 2024 Synar Report should be sent no later than January 31, 2024, to Thomas Randolph, Synar Coordinator, at [email protected].


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