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DHS news release

Jan. 5, 2006


Contact: Jim Sellers (503) 945-5738
Program contact: Rey Agullana (503) 945- 6998


Random retailer inspection visits target underage tobacco sales


(Details about reporter ride-alongs at end of news release)


A series of federally required random visits to Oregon tobacco retailers intended to curtail tobacco sales to minors will begin its 12th year this month.


About 400 of the state's 2,800 tobacco retailers will be visited by an underage teen who, accompanied by a retired Oregon State Police officer, will try to buy tobacco products. Clerks who sell will be subject to a fine of $100 to $600 for a Class D violation of endangering a minor.


"A majority of sales to youth are made by clerks who don't ask for ID or who do ask but don't do the math," Rey Agullana, prevention specialist in the Oregon Department of Human Services, said Thursday. "The lesson is to make sure the buyer is old enough before completing the sale. Just because you've seen the person before doesn't mean he or she is 18."


Last year, clerks sold to minors 17.8 percent of the time, meaning that two in 11 attempts by a minor to purchase tobacco products were successful. The federal standard says states' sales rates must be below 20 percent.


In 15 of Oregon's 36 counties, no clerk sold during the 2005 random inspections. The counties were Baker, Benton, Clatsop, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Hood River, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, Morrow, Polk, Union, Wallowa and Wasco, with the number of inspection visits ranging from one in three of those counties to 14 in Josephine County.


By retailer type, the least sales were recorded in 81 visits to mini marts, where clerks sold to minors 6.2 percent of the time. Highest sales rates were 40 percent in five attempts to purchase at tobacco shops and in 10 attempts at stores in an "other" category comprising RV parks, bowling alleys and marinas.


The 2005 sales rate rose from the 2004 sales rate of 14.6 percent, which Agullana attributed to a reduction in funding for local tobacco-prevention and education efforts. In 2004 the number of local coalitions fell from 36 to 12, although he said three more were added this past year. Coalition activities include working with retailers to reduce sales to minors, encouraging employers to help underwrite employee smoking-cessation costs and mobilizing community opinion about tobacco and health.


"We want store owners and clerks to put themselves into the shoes of parents -- including those who smoke -- who don't want their kids to start smoking," Agullana said. "Success in reducing underage tobacco sales, which in some parts of the state exceeded 80 percent at one time, tells us most do.


"We know that people who haven't started smoking by the time they're 18 probably never will."


(Reporters wishing to schedule a ride-along with inspectors in their county may contact Lt. Michael Dingeman of Oregon State Police: [503] 378-3720.)