Maryland strengthens effort to keep retailers from selling tobacco to minors

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— Though it is illegal to sell tobacco products to youths under 18, in the past two years, Maryland has seen a troubling increase in the number of retailers selling tobacco products to minors – in violation of federal, state and local laws. Underage access to tobacco products is unacceptable in Maryland.

To assist retailers across Maryland with complying with youth access laws, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) has launched a “Responsible Tobacco Retailer” campaign. In the coming days, all licensed tobacco retailers in Maryland will be receiving in the mail toolkits that include information on tobacco sales laws, to educate store owners and to assist them with employee training. The kits also include stickers, magnets, window clings and posters for use in retail environments.

“We encourage all tobacco retailers in the state to display these materials in their stores, as well as to train employees on the law and how to comply with it,” said DHMH Secretary Van Mitchell. “Together, we can stop the sales of these harmful products to our youth.” Additional information on the campaign and materials may be downloaded from the website www.NoTobaccoSalesToMinors.com.

“The sale of cigarettes to minors is a serious issue and the Comptroller’s Office is committed to supporting local health departments, law enforcement and DHMH in their efforts to combat this problem,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot. “My field enforcement agents are working aggressively to keep cigarettes out of the hands of children by cracking down on cigarette smuggling, which costs our state significant revenue and makes cigarettes more accessible to young people.”

“DHMH’s unprecedented outreach to the retail community shows a real commitment to bring retailers into compliance and to ensure that the laws of Maryland are understood and being followed by retailers and employees,” said Ellen Valentino, Executive Vice President of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association, a retail organization representing convenience stores and service stations.

According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, every day more than 1,300 people die in the United States due to smoking. Nearly 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18 and 5.6 million children alive today will ultimately die early from smoking if more is not done to reduce current smoking rates. Tobacco use among youth increases the likelihood for lifetime nicotine dependence, loss of income, and premature death. There is also increased risk for lung cancer, oral cancer, bladder cancer, chronic lung disease, heart disease, and increased infant mortality.

While many retailers remain compliant in checking IDs and in refusing to sell tobacco to minors, an increasing number are not. During DHMH inspections conducted randomly across Maryland from October 2012 to September 2013, nearly one in four tobacco retailers checked were found to have sold cigarettes to minors. Subsequent random inspections conducted in 2014 found noncompliance rates over 31 percent.

As a result, increased checks are now under way to help retailers follow all laws that prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors. Compliance checks utilize authorized, underage youth inspectors following strict, federally designed protocols. Retailers must:

· Check government-issued IDs of any customer under the age of 27 who is attempting to purchase tobacco products;

· Ensure the ID shows that these customers are at least age 18; and

· Refuse to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18.

Retailers found violating youth access laws will be referred to the Maryland Office of the Comptroller for administrative hearings that could lead to suspension of their state tobacco licenses.