Is teen smoking going down?
Tobacco retailer violation rate better than national average
CLARKSBURG -- West Virginia is ahead of the nation as a whole when it comes to stopping the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors, a federal report says.
In 2002, West Virginia reported a retailer violation rate of 10.1 percent -- below the national average of 14.1 percent and about half the targeted 20 percent, according to data released last month by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Colorado reported the lowest rate at 5.4 percent, while Alaska had the highest at 30.2 percent, the data showed. Numbers for 2003 were not yet available.
''Eight years ago, we could probably get eight out of 10 stores (to sell during a sting operation),'' Clarksburg Police Chief John Walker said. ''Today, we'd probably be hard pressed to find one or two. We've definitely seen a dramatic improvement in retailers being more cautious and not selling to underage people.''
Improved technology, such as hand-held scanners that read bar codes on West Virginia driver's licenses and identification cards, probably contributes to the drop in retailer violations, said Bridgeport Police Chief Jack Clayton. That system can help prevent teens from selling to friends, Clayton said.
The federal data is based on reports submitted by states in response to the 1992 Synar Amendment that restricts access to tobacco by those under the age of 18.
''It's one of the more encouraging factors we've seen that the laws are working,'' said Amy Shuler Goodwin, press secretary to Gov. Bob Wise. ''That's one of the reasons the governor is committed to putting even more money into programming and education.''
Wise won a tough legislative fight last year to increase taxes on a pack of cigarettes from 17 cents to 55 cents. Now he wants to raise the tax to 75 cents while almost tripling cigar and smokeless tobacco taxes to 20 percent of the wholesale price.
Such a tax increase could generate $36 million, of which Wise has committed about $6.5 million to anti-tobacco campaigns, Shuler Goodwin said.
Mary Beth Mazzie, a senior at Liberty High School and member of Teens Against Tobacco Use, said more can be done to stop youth from smoking. Mazzie said she personally has seen a decline in teen smoking.
However, ''I also think that some people just have their friends buy cigarettes for them. But for the most part, I think it is going down,'' Mazzie said. ''There's always stuff you can do to improve (education), like focus more on middle school kids, because I think that's where it starts more.''