California Merchants Targeted in Youth Smoking Crackdown

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California Merchants Targeted in Youth Smoking Crackdown

LOS ANGELES -- Retailers who sell tobacco products in California will be subjected to more inspections to make sure they are not selling to minors, under an executive order issued Tuesday by Gov. Gray Davis.

The governor has ordered state agencies to seek new laws to toughen penalties for merchants who violate the laws governing sales of tobacco to minors, and to ensure local law enforcement has authority to enforce the state's laws against sales of tobacco to minors, according to the Associated Press.

All state agencies that inspect retail establishments, especially agents of Alcohol Beverage Control, have been ordered to check for the presence of signs forbidding tobacco sales to minors and to notify the state health department of violators.

While teen smoking has declined in California, illegal sales of tobacco to minors have increased from 12.8 percent in 2000 to 17.1 percent in 2001 and 19.3 percent in 2002, the state says.

According to the California Youth Purchase Survey, 2002, non-traditional tobacco retailers had the highest rates of illegal sales to minors (doughnut shops, 33.3 percent; discount/gift
stores, 32.4 percent; and deli/meat/product markets, 30 percent). Other businesses with high rates of illegal sales were gas/convenience stores, (22 percent) and liquor stores, (20.1 percent).

The lowest rate of illegal sales was at supermarkets (8.5 percent).

State law requires tobacco retailers to post a warning sign at each point of sale, stating that selling tobacco to individuals under 18 years of age is illegal and subject to penalties. Warning signs must also include the toll-free telephone number that customers may use to report underage tobacco sales.