The sale of tobacco products to minors has doubled in the past year, according to a recent survey conducted by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Dept.
The Health Dept. employed seven 16- and 17-year-old minors who attempted to buy tobacco from 153 stores countywide, around 44 percent of the county’s tobacco retailers. The rate of sale to minors in 2003 was 36 percent, double the 18 percent sales rate of 2002. The majority of the study was conducted in December 2003, except in Buellton and Solvang, where the study was conducted in January 2004. The findings of the study will be distributed to elected officials for educational purposes.
“We do not cite anybody; they don’t even know we were there,” Health Dept. representative Dawn Dunn said. “Each community does with the information what they want.”
The cities with the highest rate of sales to minors were Guadalupe with 80 percent and Carpinteria with 55 percent. Solvang was the only one with zero sales to minors. Goleta had a 35 percent sales rate and Santa Barbara had a rate of 38 percent.
In these sales, the clerk requested identification from the minor, Dunn said. The minor then presented a valid California driver’s license that showed he or she was not yet 18 years old, but the clerk sold the tobacco to the minor anyway. The minors were paid $8-10 per hour and were chosen from local youth groups and organizations that work with the Health Dept.
“We’ve been assessing the sales rates to minors in a couple of different ways over the past 10 years,” Dunn said.
The Health Dept.’s study was conducted in addition to a sting by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Dept. in June 2003, in which citations were issued to any clerk who sold tobacco to minors. Dunn said the Health Dept. granted the Sheriff’s Dept. $8,000 to fund the sting. The money came from various legal settlements made by tobacco companies over the past several years. The Health Dept. also trained the minors who bought the tobacco.
During the Sheriff’s Dept.’s stings, an officer in plain clothes would be present in the store when the minor was trying to buy tobacco. Once the sale was made, the officer would identify himself and issue a citation.
The citation would be issued to the clerk who made the sale, not the store in which the sale was transacted. In Goleta, Santa Barbara and unincorporated areas, which require businesses to have a license to sell tobacco, the store additionally would be put under a 2-year warning period. If the store sold any tobacco to minors during that time, its tobacco license could be revoked for up to 30 days.
The study showed that 43 percent of retailers in the unincorporated area of the county, including Isla Vista, sold tobacco to minors.
“I.V. was actually really good this year,” Dunn said. “They have been horrible in the past.”
Sam Hassan, who works at I.V. Deli Mart, said he received a citation from the Sheriff’s Dept. in June 2003 that was nearly $400.
“We were new back then; we had only been open a week or so. We were really busy and the kids seemed like they were in a hurry to leave,” Hassan said. “They looked like students; they were carrying books and everything. They looked like they were 20 years old. It’s entrapment.”