Illegal tobacco sales to minors threatens children’s health

June 13, 2018

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TAHLEQUAH, OKLA. – Oklahoma tobacco retailers are increasingly not complying with state law regarding underage tobacco sales. Last year, Oklahoma tobacco retailers posted an overall noncompliance rate of nearly 18 percent. That’s troubling for local prevention professionals, who say that the rising underage tobacco sales rate means that some retailers are placing profit ahead of young lives. It also risks federal funding that supports vital Oklahoma health initiatives.

In July 1992, Congress enacted the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act (PL 102-321), which includes an amendment (section 1926) aimed at decreasing youth access to tobacco. This amendment, named for its sponsor, Congressman Mike Synar of Oklahoma, requires states to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18.

States are required to have a compliance rate of at least 80 percent (or a noncompliance rate of no more than 20 percent) regarding the sale of tobacco products to minors and must demonstrate compliance in order to receive their full Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant award.

“In 2012, the noncompliance rate was only 6.8 percent, the lowest ever recorded in Oklahoma; however, that rate has steadily increased ever since,” said Rachel Clinton, Cherokee Nation’s RPC Region 5 director. “While the majority of retailers are complying with the law, there are some in our community choosing to ignore it and, in turn, risking the health of our children. That is unacceptable.”

Unannounced compliance checks occur annually in communities throughout Oklahoma. Clinton reminds local retailers that it is important to be aware of the law and ensure all staff members are trained to prevent underage tobacco sales.

Community-based education is available to business owners and clerks regarding youth access to tobacco. The service is free. For more information, retailers may contact Cherokee Nation RPC at 918-207-4977, ext. 7187.