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Random inspections show it’s easy for underage to buy cigarettes in maryland

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Almost 32 percent of Maryland retailers part of a random inspection sold cigarettes to those under the age of 18, a result the state’s top health official called “embarrassing.”

The state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it conducted the checks from May to September. It is against state and federal law to sell cigarettes to people younger than 18.

“It is embarrassing that cigarettes are easier for kids to get in Maryland than everywhere else,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Legislation is needed so that retailers who violate the law and sell tobacco to minors are at risk of losing their licenses.”

The checks found that 16.2 percent of 75 Montgomery County retailers part of the inspections sold cigarettes to those younger than 18. That number was 30.6 percent in Prince George’s County and 40 percent in Baltimore County, though in both cases inspectors checked dozens more stores.

All retailer are required by federal law to check photo ID of any person who looks younger than 27 and who wishes to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products. A separate study found that only 37.5 percent of underage Maryland youth reported being asked to show ID while trying to buy cigarettes from a store.

The state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says the checks are discouraging because national stats suggest almost 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18. That means an estimated 52,000 Maryland residents under 18 use tobacco products.

The state says it’s working with county health departments to increase “youth access enforcement efforts across the state,” but further action requires legislation.

The DHMH recommended increasing penalties on retailers who sell to minors, including suspension and revocation of tobacco selling licenses. The department also suggested making violations a civil, rather than a criminal offense, would help encourage enforcement of the rules and increasing retailer license fees would help cover federal youth access penalties the state is required to pay out.

It also recommended requiring additional licenses for selling e cigarettes and flavored tobacco products, a step some on the Montgomery County Council have already proposed.

Flickr photo by MoneyBlogNewz