TUMWATER, Wash. – State health leaders and law enforcement are meeting at the Washington State Department of Health to tackle a growing problem -- teen smoking and the rising number of retailers selling tobacco to minors illegally.
According to the state, tobacco sales to minors is at its highest level in more than a decade. 16 percent of retailers broke the law and sold cigarettes to minors last year. The current rate of youth smoking in Washington is about 13 percent.
“That disturbs me," said Mary Selecky, Washington's Secretary of Health. "Kids who start smoking at a young age are lifelong smokers."
Wednesday’s meeting in Tumwater will also focus on how the state and local agencies, police, and health organizations can address these issues in light of lack of funding. Two years ago the state had about $27 million to work with teens and adults on prevention. Now that funding is less than $5 million.
In 2010, the tobacco industry spent more than $80 million on advertising in Washington alone.
“We’ve got to look at how we do this retailer education," Selecky said. "In this day of social media maybe there’s some way we can do it and get the word out, but the most effective way is if the owners businesses understand the law and make sure it’s enforced.”
Business owners could be fined up to $1,500 and sales associates $100 for selling tobacco to a minor.