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Staff members from the Garrett County Health Department and underage buyers from both county high schools worked with officers from the Garrett County Sheriff’s Office to conduct tobacco compliance checks around the county from July 2018 to June 2019.  The purpose of the checks is to ensure that tobacco products are not being sold to minors and that the tobacco product placement law is being followed.  Maryland State law requires persons to be at least eighteen years old to purchase or possess any tobacco product.

During fiscal year 2019, there were 124 compliance visits completed with 5 violations occurring for a compliance rate of 96%.

“Most of our merchants are compliant and do a very good job preventing underage sales to minors,” said Health Education and Outreach Program Director, Kendra McLaughlin. Those businesses that sold tobacco to an underage buyer were Cornerstone Market, Midway Discount Liquors, 7-11 in Oakland, Sheetz, and Swanton Grocery.  In Garrett County, violations can lead to civil fines of up to $100 for the salesperson, up to $300 for the business owner, and referral to the State Comptroller’s office for repeat offenders. In all five incidents, civil citations were issued to both the clerk selling and the owner or operator of the store.

Tobacco compliance operations will continue in fiscal year 2020. Before visits begin each year, vendors receive a packet of educational materials which contains training information for employees and promotional materials to make customers aware of tobacco laws. Every vendor also receives a letter that notifies them of the law, penalties for violation of the law, and the start date of local compliance visits.

“The goal of our compliance operations is to have the salespersons confirm proof of age before making a sale,” said Health Education and Outreach Program Director, Kendra McLaughlin. “We are trying to catch vendors doing the right thing.”  Research demonstrates that more than 80% of tobacco users started using before they were 18 years old, so preventing tobacco sales to minors is one barrier to youth tobacco initiation.

Students participants are under eighteen years old at the time of the operation and receive training from health department staff and law enforcement officers about the compliance check procedures. Students who enter a store to purchase tobacco are under observation of a law enforcement officer. If an illegal sale is completed the officer will interview the clerk to determine possible penalties.

For more information about tobacco compliance, contact the health department at 301-334-7730 or 301-895-3111. Funds from the Maryland Department of Health Tobacco Enforcement grant support the Compliance Check Program.