Kansas Authorities Target Underage Smoking

A program designed to decrease tobacco sales to minors is the price the state of Kansas had to pay to avoid losing federal funds for programs that combat substance abuse, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services plans to spend $2.3 million over two years to help retailers keep their employees from selling cigarettes, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco to customers under 18. That spending -- $1.15 million annually -- compares to $5 million in federal funds the state could lose each year.

Kansas was the only state to miss a federal target for compliance with laws against underage sales from October 2003 through September 2004. Thirty-eight percent of retailers inspected had sales to minors, when the national goal is only 20 percent.

But, ultimately to combat the problem, the state probably will have to hire more employees to inspect retailers, said Kelly Peak, SRS substance abuse prevention team leader. Inspections fall to the Department of Revenue.

"I think generally, over time, the state agencies have done everything they could do within the resources they were provided," Peak said. "What we know is we're going to have to increase the amount of enforcement and monitoring of retailers to ensure better compliance."

The state and anti-tobacco groups launched the new program called "It's Everybody's Business" earlier this month.

SRS is paying for the initiative with funds raised from fees it charges some Kansans for the social services it provides. Normally, the money would be used for those services, said SRS spokesman Mike Deines.

Deines said SRS doesn't expect the diversion of money to affect social services because the agency had enough fees built up to cover the new expenses. But continued reliance on fee dollars could become an issue in future years, he said.

Peak said the state's noncompliance was measured by inspections of about 650 retailers out of the 3,100 that sell tobacco products. In 2002-03, noncompliance was about 22 percent before rising in the following 12 months.

If the state continues to miss the federal targets, it will have to continue its campaign or give up the federal funds for substance abuse programs, Peak said.
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