Health groups want more to prevent tobacco purchases by minors
Anti-smoking groups want the state to do more to keep young people from buying tobacco products.
A report by the state Department of Health Services indicates the number of retailers selling tobacco to minors is increasing. To see if retailers are selling tobacco to minors, compliance checks are done in every county of the state with survey teams of two minors over age 15.
The American Lung Association's Dona Wininsky says a decline in funding means fewer checks are done now than in the past.
"If you go back to 2008 they were doing as many as 14,000 checks of retailers in 2008, some of them were a couple times a year," says Wininsky. "This year they were only able to do 4,000 checks. So clearly the funding issue has been a big factor."
Anti-smoking groups say the state's tobacco control program is operating with less money and that tobacco tax loopholes reduce the price of certain cigarettes that are popular with kids. One example is "little cigars", which are essentially cigarettes that come in flavors like grape, cherry, and chocolate.
"They're packaged in bright colors, they smell like candy, they look like candy and it's not too difficult for a teenager going up to a clerk in a convenience store with a handful of candy bars and a package of grape flavored Swisher Sweets to just kind of be able to slide them through," says Wininsky.
A coalition of anti-smoking groups called Health First wants flavored tobacco products taxed at the same rate as cigarettes.