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Illegal Tobacco Sales to Minors Increase in California 

Date: 10/21/2016 
Number: 16-063 
Contact: Ali Bay, (916) 440-7259 

SACRAMENTO — California’s rate of illegal tobacco sales to minors is up by one-third since last year, according to the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) 2016 Youth Tobacco Purchase Survey. The current rate, 10.3 percent, is the highest in eight years. Chart showing percent of retailers selling tobacco to youth 1997-2016

Graph depicting percent of retailers selling tobacco products to youth 1997-2916“Preventing the illegal sale of tobacco to minors is extremely important,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith. “Delaying the age when young people begin using tobacco reduces the possibility of them becoming long-term users, which can protect them from a lifetime of tobacco-related illnesses.” 

The CDPH survey was conducted using 75 youth decoys (under age 18) who tried to buy tobacco products at 793 stores, which were randomly selected out of the 34,428 licensed tobacco retailers throughout California. The survey was completed before the minimum age for tobacco sales increased to 21 years of age on June 9 of this year. 

Nearly one-third of stores that exclusively sell tobacco products sold cigarettes to teens during the course of the survey, which contributed to this year’s increased illegal sales rate. Non-traditional tobacco retail outlets, such as discount stores and car washes, had a rate of 12.3 percent, and convenience stores that sell gas had a rate of 10.3 percent. The lowest rates of illegal sales were found at stand-alone convenience stores (5.7 percent) and drug stores and pharmacies (0 percent). 

In addition to its annual survey, CDPH’s Food and Drug Branch conducts ongoing illegal sales enforcement operations. California retailers caught selling tobacco products to minors during these enforcement operations may be subject to fines up to $6,000 for repeated violations. 

This annual survey measures the rate of illegal tobacco sales across California as part of the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement (STAKE) Act. The federal Synar Amendment requires all U.S. states and territories to assess their rates of illegal sales of tobacco to youth as a way to prohibit the sale or distribution of tobacco products to people under the age of 18.
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