The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) announced today the results of its annual inspection of tobacco outlets to measure compliance with laws restricting underage tobacco sales. This year’s compliance rate of 6.8 percent is the lowest ever for the state.
Oklahoma retail outlets such as convenience and grocery stores are monitored to ensure they follow all laws related to sales of tobacco products to minors. This marks the third year in a row the state’s compliance rate improved, down significantly from the 18 percent noncompliance rate recorded in 2008. ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White said she is pleased with the progress and praised retailers that didn’t sell tobacco products to minors, but cautioned that concerns remain that some stores are still choosing to sell to underage customers.
“Fortunately, the vast majority of retailers are abiding by the law and doing their part to make sure they aren’t the ones putting tobacco into the hands of our youth. The fact that so many retailers didn’t sell these products to minors suggests there is no excuse for the others to continue breaking the law,” White said. “Store owners who ignore compliance requirements are putting their own profits ahead of our children’s health.”
The rate of sales is still too high if it’s anything less than 100 percent compliance with the law. White has reason to be concerned. It is the agency she leads that stands to lose – some $7 million in federal funds that support substance abuse prevention and treatment in Oklahoma – if more than 20 percent of tobacco retailers throughout the state disobey the law and sell to underage customers. Such a penalty would severely hamper the agency’s efforts to prevent and treat substance abuse. “Not only are these retailers who break the law risking the health of the children they sell to, they risk the health of thousands of Oklahomans seeking help to overcome alcohol and drug addiction,” said White. “There are already too few services to meet demand. To risk the loss of millions of dollars in prevention and treatment funding is unacceptable.”
Retailers also are in danger of losing something – their tobacco licenses – if clerks continue to sell tobacco to those under the age of 18. “Compliance is getting better, but any sale of tobacco to a minor is one sale too many,” said White. “It is against the law to sell tobacco products to children under the age of 18 – period. We should have 100 percent compliance.” The federal Synar Amendment, authored by the late Oklahoma Congressman Mike Synar and enacted in 1992, requires states to have a compliance rate of at least 80 percent regarding the sale of tobacco products to minors. The department contracts with the State’s ABLE Commission to conduct random compliance monitoring checks on an annual basis, and the results are reported to the federal agency that oversees Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant Funding. The Region 6 Regional Prevention Coordinators (RPC) along with community members, coalition member, Project Spit; in partnership with grantee T-SET continue to work together to bring awareness of the dangers and risks of using tobacco.
The RPC is required by (ODMHSAS) to conduct Reward Reminder Visits (RRV’S) with retailers. RRV’S are intended to educate retailers to be responsible retailers, check ID’s and not sale to minors. During an RRV, the APRC and usually a community partner will take underage minors to attempt to purchase tobacco from retailers, and take the opportunity to educate the retailer or clerk on the laws and negative effects of selling tobacco to minors. If ABLE (Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement) is present then a citation may be issued.
ODMHSAS also partnered with the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust
(TSET) to increase compliance activities targeting retailers. Community-based education is available to business owners and clerks regarding youth access to tobacco. Additional information related to Synar compliance is available on the ODMHSAS website at http://ok.gov/odmhsas/Prevention_/Prevention_Initiatives/Synar_Compliance/ .
Tobacco use prematurely kills thousands of Oklahomans every year, yet it remains the leading preventable cause of death in Oklahoma. “The best, most effective way to stop future problems caused by tobacco use, is to prevent it from ever occurring in the first place,” according to White.
Region 6 Regional Prevention Coordinators want to commend area retailers on a job well done. If you have any questions contact RPC Director, Robbie Mullens or RPC Coordinator, Amber Kent