Tobacco Sales to Contra Costa Minors Still a Problem; Three More Merchants' Licenses to Sell Suspended
February 1, 2008
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Three retail outlets in unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County had their license to sell tobacco suspended in hearings Thursday because of illegal sales to minors. They follow six other suspensions last month after statistics late last year showed an increase in tobacco sales to minors in Contra Costa.
In 2007, 34% of Contra Costa tobacco retailers illegally sold to minor during Sheriff's Department sting operations.
"Selling tobacco products in Contra Costa is not a right, it is a privilege that carries the responsibility to obey the law," said Public Health Director Wendel Brunner, MD, who conducted the hearings. "Selling tobacco to minors is illegal. Too many merchants are either not training their clerks adequately or are ignoring laws about selling tobacco products to minors."
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance in 2003 requiring all of the approximately 100 stores in the unincorporated areas of the County that sell tobacco to obtain a license. Several cities in the county, including Concord and Richmond, have similar tobacco retailer license requirements.
Owners of stores where illegal sales are conducted can have their license to sell tobacco products suspended or even revoked for repeated violations. Since the ordinance passed, there have been more than 450 inspections of retailers and 57 merchants have had their licenses suspended for up to 30 days or revoked for repeated violations.
The Contra Costa Sheriff's Office conducts 100 undercover buying operations a year at businesses in unincorporated county areas, and the rate of illegal sales to undercover agents has risen from 2% after the licensing law first passed to 34%. That is nearly back to the 37% found before the law was passed in 2003.
"We are determined to reduce illegal sales of tobacco to minors, who are targeted by marketing from the tobacco industry," said Dr. Brunner. "The Sheriff's Office is conducting tobacco stings all around the county, and we expect tobacco retailers in Contra Costa to check identification and obey the law."
Contra Costa Health Services' Tobacco Prevention Project (TPP) works with the Sheriff's Office to prevent sales to minors.
For more information about youth access to tobacco, visit cchealth.org online and click on Health Topics, then Tobacco Prevention, then Tobacco Prevention Project, or call 925-313-6214.
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- Wendel Brunner