The percentage of retailers who made illegal sales of tobacco to young people in the U.S. rose, for the first time in at least 13 years, amid state enforcement cutbacks, a federal study found. Approximately 10.9 percent of retailers inspected by state officials sold Camel, Marlboro cigarettes to customers under the age of 18 in the year ended Sept. 30, up from 9.9 percent a year earlier, according to a report released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. State budget cuts and fewer inspections contributed to the increase, the report said.
The Food and Drug Administration is implementing a law barring companies led by Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. from marketing tobacco to young people. The law, signed by President Barack Obama last June, also bans retail sales of tobacco to minors. FDA rules, due to take effect June 22, will let the agency enter contracts with states to enforce the curbs.
“Today’s report shows that we need to continue to be vigilant in our efforts, including providing adequate attention and resources, to continue the hard-earned progress we have made over the past 13 years in reducing youth access to tobacco products,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde said today in a statement. The public-health agency is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
On the basis of random compliance checks in each state, the rate of violations by retailers was found to be highest in Oregon, at 18.8 percent, and lowest in North Dakota, at 1.6 percent, according to the report. The national average was computed by weighting state findings to take population into account.
The nationwide increase was the first to be found since the surveys started in 1997, when the agency started requiring states to bar tobacco sales to minors as a condition of receiving federal funds for substance-abuse prevention and treatment. The U.S. figure had declined in each annual survey after the first one, until last year. In 1997, the rate was 40.1 percent.
Smoking is the nation’s biggest cause of preventable death, killing about 443,000 people a year, according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta.