Washington, DC—The District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health announced the latest results of its program to curb illegal tobacco sales to minors. According to the FY 2013 Annual Synar Reports: Tobacco Sales to Youth issued by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only 8.6 percent of inspected retail outlets in the District of Columbia sold tobacco products to youth at any time in 2013. That number is significantly below the 20 percent target rate requirement set by SAMHSA and the District’s highest rate of 41.9 percent in 2004.
The Synar Amendment program is a federal and state partnership that requires states and U.S. jurisdictions to create laws and enforcement programs prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco to persons under 18 years of age. The Department of Behavioral Health along with off-duty Metropolitan Police Department officers conducts random, unannounced inspections of about 300 retail outlets each year. These inspections provide a valid probability sample of tobacco sales outlets accessible to minors.
“Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventive deaths in the country. 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.
Smoking rates among adults and teens are less than half what they were in 1964, yet nationally 42 million adults and about 3 million middle and high school students continue to smoke. About 12.5% of all District high school students smoke compared to 20.4% of adults. In addition to the enforcement efforts, the Department sponsors a tobacco merchant education program for more than 900 retailers licensed to sell tobacco products by the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The Department also sponsors community prevention and cessation efforts targeted toward youth.
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.
Studies show about 70% of all smokers want to quit. The Department of Behavioral 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.
For more information about available smoking prevention and cessation, go to www.dbh.dc.gov, and click on Addiction Prevention Recovery Administration. Information about the Synar program, including a breakdown of retailer violation rates in the District of Columbia, the 50 states, and the territories is available at: http://beta.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/synar-annual-report-2013.pdf. To read the Surgeon’s Report, “The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress, go to www.SurgeonGeneral.gov. The District of Columbia smoking related data is available at www.cdc.gov/tobacco/statesystem.
The District of Columbia DC Code (22-1120) states that no person shall sell give or furnish any tobacco products to any person under 18 years of age. Any person who sells any cigarette or other tobacco product that has reasonable cause to believe that a person who attempts to purchase the product is under 18 shall require the purchaser to present identification that indicates their age. Violation of either of these provisions is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine between $100 and $500, and/or imprisonment for not more than 30 days, for the first offense.
A person who commits subsequent violations shall be fined $500 to $1, 000, imprisoned for not more than 90 days, or both. Any license to sell cigarettes may be suspended for the first or second violation, and shall be revoked for a third violation.