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Tobacco sale sting snares five businesses

Five out of 30 Kitsap retailers randomly surveyed last month sold tobacco to minors — even after store clerks checked their ID cards.

“There are a lot of reasons why the age is sometimes not calculated correctly,” theorized state liquor control board agent Pat McFerran. “It could be that the clerk is in a hurry, can’t see well, or just doesn’t know where to look.”

It could be that clerks unwittingly assume a young customer is of age if a picture ID is proffered willingly, explained Barbara Smithson of the Kitsap County Health District.

“It’s not that they are not asking for IDs,” Smithson said.

Bottom line, education and partnerships are necessary to foster compliance among retailers.

Kitsap retailers have improved their tobacco sale compliance even during the last eight years.

This last dragnet, for instance, revealed 83 percent of the surveyed Kitsap retailers were in compliance, a margin well within the federal standard of 80 percent.

Since the first random survey conducted in 1994, compliance among Kitsap retailers has surged from 56 percent to about the 80th percentile mark.

The state of Washington has set a higher goal of 95 percent compliance among retailers by next year.

Still, this most recent survey’s results are disturbing.

They show the five shops out of compliance are all located within a mile of a school, said Shelley Rose of the Kitsap County Health District.

And there seems to be a long way to go to meet the state’s goal.

“We’re very serious about stopping kids from obtaining tobacco,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, health district director. “If we can keep our children from becoming addicted before the age of 18, it’s unlikely they’ll ever start using tobacco.”

A Journal of the American Medical Association reported that although store clerks frequently ask young-looking customers to produce ID before allowing a tobacco purchase, they somehow fail to examine it accurately enough to calculate age. In Washington, customers have to be 18 years old or older.

That’s where the Kitsap County Health District and the state Liquor Control Board step in.

The two agencies partner up, along with volunteer teenagers, to run the compliance checks at local shops and markets.

And when there are violations, administrative citations can be issued.

Selling tobacco to a minor can result in a $100 fine for retailers for the first offense. The first-offense fine for a clerk is $50.

Repeat offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and have their licenses to sell cigarettes suspended.

“The idea is to reduce access,” McFerran said. “To that end, education is better than a punitive approach.”

So while fines can be levied, the health district and liquor control board agents also try to provide resources and classes to clerks and retailers who are either out of compliance, or who voluntarily approach the agencies for training.

Officials also try to help out clerks and stores by parceling out helpful signs that automatically calculate age for both tobacco and alcohol purchases.

The idea is both corrective and preventive.

“The education we’ve done and the work we’ve done with kids and the community is an important piece,” Rose said.

Random checks are achieved with help from teen volunteers involved with the Stop Tobacco Use Now Do it (STAND) program. The teens are trained by health district and liquor control board staff and then attempt to purchase tobacco products at random retail stores using their own IDs.

The overall compliance effort in Washington State and Kitsap County is driven by the federal Synar law, which requires all the states to perform random tobacco sales compliance checks annually.

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