Saturday, 25 May 2024

Survey shows local tobacco sales to youth rising

LAKE COUNTY – A recently released survey shows that tobacco sales to local youth more than doubled over the last year.

The Lake County Tobacco Control Program, a state-funded program of the County of Lake Health Services Department and Lake Family Resource Center, released the results of the May 2008 Youth Purchase Survey.

It found that sales have increased from 8.4 percent in May 2007 to 19 percent in the most recent survey, with 11 stores out of nearly 60 countywide selling tobacco products to teens under the age of 18.

Michael Rupe, the tobacco program's coordinator, said the surveys began in 2005.

Rupe said he found these most recent results surprising, especially since last year's survey shows that usage had gone down over the previous two and a half years.

The surveys are conducted by sending a member of the Adult Tobacco Coalition with Youth Coalition members to selected stores, according to a tobacco control program report.

The teens survey tobacco product signage and product placement to assure that the store is in compliance with current California law. One of them then goes to the check stand, where they attempt to buy tobacco as their partner observes the situation.

If a sale is made, the two teens leave the store and give the cigarettes to the adult advisor. The team members then conduct an immediate evaluation of the sale/non-sale that includes whether identification was requested, whether a sale was made, and the age and gender of the sales clerk.

The program then notifies stores of the results, including the time and date of the sale, with information regarding the clerk training provided through Lake Family Resource Center.

Communities in Lake County with 100-percent compliance, or no sales to youth, included Lakeport, Lower Lake and Middletown, according to the survey results.

Stores in all other Lake County communities sold tobacco products to youth decoys, the program reported. The highest concentration of sales was in the Northshore area, where 36 percent of retailers sold tobacco products to minors. In Clearlake, 23 percent of stores sold to minors.

Rupes estimated that about half of the tobacco sales to youth tracked in the recent survey were for smokeless tobacco, or chew.

“They can do it at school and not get caught,” he said.

Rupe said he has found out a lot about usage trends by talking to young people as a facilitator for My Strength Clubs, groups for young men ages 14 through 18 which meet in Upper Lake and Lower Lake. The groups give young men a safe place to meet and talk about how to be proactive about respecting women. The program also focuses on peer pressure and the consequences of drug use, and has adopted a tobacco use prevention program.

Education will be a key component to turn back the growth of tobacco use, said Rupe.

Gloria Flaherty, executive director of Lake Family Resource Center, said in a written statement that the Tobacco Control Program works diligently to educate tobacco retailers about laws that prevent sales of tobacco products to underage teens.

The program also has created free training and fact sheets for owners and employees that inform current laws, required signage, identification verification and other resources, according to Flaherty.

She said the dramatic increase in sales means the program can't slow down its efforts to stop the sales.

Rupe said a Lake County Tobacco Control Program objective for the 2007-2010 period is to have at least one jurisdiction within the county accept a local tobacco retailer licensing ordinance.

“Right now we don't have any enforcement,” he said.

Tobacco sales to minors have no repercussions for businesses, such as exist for underage alcohol sales, said Rupe. That's despite the fact, as Flaherty pointed out, that selling tobacco to minors is illegal.

A tobacco retailer licensing ordinance would require retailers wanting to sell tobacco to purchase a special license to do so – much like a business license, he said. The license cost would then cover the cost of enforcement.

Rupe said the ordinances – which have been accepted in other California communities – give store owners an immediate incentive to stop selling tobacco to minors, because the laws carry fines, and could result in suspensions of their license to sell tobacco products.

“We have not approached the city of Lakeport or the County of Lake,” Rupe said. “We have approached the city of Clearlake.”

Rupe said program members have met with Clearlake Mayor Curt Giambruno and Council member Judy Thein, who are interested in taking the lead on such an ordinance.

“Tobacco is a gateway drug to just about every type of drug out there,” said Rupe.

That includes leading to alcohol use, said Rupe, a member of Team DUI, which works locally to stop underage drinking.


For more information about the Lake Family Resource Center Tobacco Control Program, or to schedule a presentation, call Rupe at 262-1611.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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