West Virginia to Crack Down on Youth Smoking

West Virginia's past failure to keep kids from smoking means more money to fund new tactics for the state's current anti-tobacco effort.

More than 4,100 retailers throughout the state are receiving new guides, counter mats and warning signs from state officials this week to better prevent tobacco sales to underage youth, Associated Press.

The materials are part of a renewed campaign to curb an unusually high rate of youth tobacco sales that has cost valuable grant money before. One report shows West Virginia youths were able to buy tobacco products from retailers about 42 percent of the times they tried in 1999. That's well above the national average of 36 percent.

It's also more than double the 20 percent success rate limit required by federal law. The state has met the requirement four of the five years it has been in effect, but in 1999, noncompliance cost the state $801,000 in fines. That money came out of federal block grant funds for substance abuse prevention and treatment, the report said.

More strict enforcement is another goal, especially because there are stiff penalties for violators. Retailers can face fines of up to $5,000 for illegal sales, while illegal buyers who use fake ID cards could have their driver's licenses yanked for 90 days.

But Thomas Keeley, commissioner of the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, said scaring retailers and underage buyers into compliance is more important. State inspectors are starting by visiting retailers in all 55 counties, warning them about selling to minors and providing a guide to help them comply with the law.

State officials plan a series of unannounced inspection stings by the end of the year and promise to enforce the law the next time they come around, the report said. They hope the new tactics will put a dent in West Virginia's high rate of youth tobacco use. "When 42 percent are able to buy tobacco, I think it is out of control," Keeley said.
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