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Monday, July 8, 2013

It's Getting Much Harder for Teens to Buy Cigarettes in San Francisco, Study Shows

Posted By on Mon, Jul 8, 2013 at 8:38 AM

click to enlarge Not a San Francisco kid - FLICKR/SJ PHOTOGRAPHY

San Francisco is making it harder for angsty rebellious teens to be angsty rebellious teens.

According to the latest report from the city's Health Department, tobacco sales to minors in San Francisco are down about 2 percent in as many years.

The City issues reports like these roughly every two years, and in 2011, San Francisco retailers sold tobacco to minors 15.5 percent of the time. This year, the number has dipped to 13.4 percent, according to the report.

It takes the Police Department two years to finish each survey since it uses a statistically significant sample size; this year 454 shops were visited and 61 of them sold tobacco products to minors.

The Police Department uncovered this through its youth decoy operations which helps cops learn how many shop owners -- and which ones -- are selling the nicotine-laden stuff to youngsters not yet of legal age to smoke.

Basically, a kid walks into a store, asks the clerk for a pack of smokes, and if it's sold to the youngster, then that retailer gets in big trouble.

Merchants who wish to sell tobacco products in San Francisco are required to first get a permit. If a merchant sells tobacco products to minors, or breaks other tobacco-control laws, the permit can be suspended up to 90 days for the first violation; up to six months for a second violation within 12 months; and up one year for a third violation, according to the Health Department.

Once suspended, the shops will see a lot less cash flowing in if the clerk has to turn away every cigarette fiend looking for a fix. Thus, the merchants have a financial incentive not to sell the stuff to minors.

This go-around, many of the violations were committed in the Tenderloin, SOMA and Mission districts, according to program coordinator Derek Smith of the Tobacco Free Project, a wing in the City's Health Department. Smith noted that the study covers the whole city.

"The sample is not sliceable by community ... it's more of a longitudinal thing," said Smith.

But due to appeals processes, and the two-year study window, it's rare to see many repeat offenders, Smith added.

In the early 2000's, before strict permitting and enforcement laws were in place, S.F. had rates in the 20-30 percent range. Since then, the Health Department has been working to get the city's rate to be in line with the state, which boasts a lower 8.7 percentage rate. Smith attributed San Francisco's relatively high numbers to the density of stores that sell tobacco products (there are 1,016) across the city.

To be sure fewer cigarettes are flowing into the hands of minors, every year the Health Department sends to retailers informational handouts in four different languages detailing the ordinances and laws regarding tobacco sales in San Francisco.

So really, there's no excuse.

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Joseph Geha


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