Compliance checks find fewer county tobacco sales to minors
— Two years after Maryland almost lost federal money because of poor enforcement of laws preventing the sale of tobacco to minors, compliance has improved in both the state and the county.
During a presentation to the Elkton Board of Commissioners last week, Jennifer Padgett, a community health educator with the Cecil County Health Department, reported that during fiscal year 2016, only 9.09 percent of stores checked in the county were noncompliant compared to 27.3 percent in fiscal year 2014. At the state level, the non-compliance figures dropped from more than 31 percent to just 13.8 percent, she said.
Last year’s compliance rates meant Maryland exceeded the limit detailed in the Synar Amendment, a federal law that requires all states to conduct annual, random inspections of minimum tobacco age sales and maintain a violation rate of less than 20 percent. Failure to comply can put the state at risk of losing 40 percent of a federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant.
In August, 11 stores were checked in the county and passed, Padgett reported. On Thursday, she noted there is a possibly more checks could be conducted during fiscal year 2017.
Meanwhile, Elkton Police Department Lt. Carolyn Allen reported that four such compliance checks were conducted in Elkton this year. Only three businesses sold out of the 18 that were visited, she added.
During a check, an undercover officer goes into the store with a minor, with permission from the child’s parents, and witnesses whether the cashier sells a tobacco product or not, Allen said.
If the retailer sells to the minor, a uniformed officer then writes a citation. If the retailer does not sell, a uniformed officer lets the retailer know they passed the random check, Allen said.
The first offense includes a $300 fine, the second offense is $500 and subsequent offenses are $750. Repeat violators meet with the Regulatory Enforcement Division of the Maryland Office of the Comptroller, Allen said.
Allen noted that many retailers have registers that are able to tell the purchaser’s age by typing in his or her date of birth, providing further protections.
Padgett said the county health department educates each store in the county that has a license to sell tobacco and trains them on areas such as Synar and ID technology.
The county’s liquor board and health department also provide retail training on topics such as how to check someone’s ID card, what Synar is and how county law enforcement conducts compliance checks. Retailers are also given literature on how to calculate someone’s age on the ID card as well as helpful hints such as how to place tobacco products where customers cannot reach for the product themselves.
Padgett noted that electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, are now called electronic nicotine delivery systems, and cannot be sold to those under 18 years old due to new Federal Drug Administration regulations.
Following the presentation, an Elkton resident said that if minors want to retrieve a tobacco product, they can, noting he often sees minors smoking cigarettes. He also asked what happens to children who are caught with cigarettes.
Elkton Police Chief Matt Donnelly said most minors are given a tobacco citation and must appear in front of the Neighborhood Youth Panel, although the charges are usually dismissed.
The department participates in the program about five times a year, he said, and officers that participate are covered under the grant.
“If we get stores to stay in compliance and not sell to minors that’s a good thing,” Donnelly said. “And if we get a couple of minors to stop smoking as a result after they go in front the Neighborhood Youth Panel, then I think it’s money well spent.”
Last year’s compliance checks found a decreasing number of stores that sold tobacco to underage patrons.