Tobacco Sales to Minors
updated: Oct 22, 2013, 9:56 AM
Source: Public Health Department
Recent undercover operations document an ongoing problem with retailers selling tobacco to youth
locally. Of the 401 retailers surveyed in Santa Barbara County this year, 16% (48/301) sold
cigarettes to an underage decoy down from 17% last year, yet more than double the statewide
average of 5.6%.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (PHD) worked with law enforcement and
youth-serving agencies to conduct its annual assessment of tobacco sales to youth under 18. As in
past surveys, a wide variation in sales rates was seen throughout the county. Between 2012 and
2013, illegal sales rates decreased in cities throughout the county with the exception of Santa
Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria, where they increased, as shown in the table below. Sales to
minors were most improved in Carpinteria (from 26% to 0%), Goleta (from 39% to 25%) along with
Solvang and Guadalupe (from 29% to 0%). Rates in the unincorporated area dropped slightly to
9% (5/56), compared to 10% (6/63) selling last year. Though this decrease is small, it marks only
the second time since 1994 that county areas recorded a rate below 10%.
The undercover buy operations utilize youth that are 15-17 years of age, who look under 18,
carry valid state identification and do not misrepresent their age in any way. Plain-clothed law
enforcement agents were involved in 59% of the buys in which the clerks were cited for violating
state law. PHD strives to maintain consistency when conducting these operations. One method
of doing this is to limit the number of the youth that serve as decoys in each region, thus
increasing the comparability of results among neighboring communities. Nearly 75% of all
known tobacco retails in the county were shopped during the undercover buys this year. PHD
maintains at least five years of data on each community. Viewing multi-year trends within a city,
or at least within similar communities, helps assess youth access to tobacco products over time.
In 2010, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors strengthened the penalties associated
with selling tobacco to minors in the unincorporated areas. This summer, the Carpinteria City
Council adopted an ordinance that requires tobacco retailers to obtain tobacco retail licenses
This ordinance replicates the county's and included zoning requirements and a ban on new
significant tobacco retail shops. These laws are designed to help reduce youth access to
tobacco products and promote responsible retailing.
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