Tobacco Compliance Checks Result in 97% Compliance with Laws

Staff members from the Garrett County Health Department (GCHD) and underage buyers from both county high schools worked with deputies from the Garrett County Sheriff’s Office to conduct tobacco compliance checks in the county from July 2022 through March 2023.

These checks are designed to ensure that tobacco products are not being sold to minors and that the tobacco product placement law is being followed. Maryland State law prohibits the sale of tobacco and nicotine-derived products as well as the sale of electronic smoking devices to anyone under the age of 21.

During fiscal year 2023, there were 103 compliance visits completed with 3 violations occurring for a compliance rate of 97%.

“Most of our merchants do a very good job preventing underage sales to minors, and our annual compliance checks help to keep retailers vigilant in checking IDs to protect the youth in our community,” said Lori Peck, Tobacco Prevention Coordinator, GCHD. The businesses which sold tobacco to an underage buyer in fiscal year 2023 were Friendsville Liquor Store, and The Vapor Hut, which was in violation twice.

In Garrett County, violations can lead to civil fines of up to $300 for the business owner for the first offense, $ 1,000-second offense, and $3,000 for a third offense, and referral to the State Comptroller’s office for repeat offenders within a 2-year time period of the first offense.

Tobacco compliance operations will continue in fiscal year 2024. 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. The many health consequences that early tobacco use can cause youth is also discussed. 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 Peck. “Research demonstrates that more than 80% of tobacco users started using before they were 18 years old, and early tobacco use can often lead to other forms of addiction. Preventing tobacco sales to minors is one barrier to youth tobacco use.”

Student participants are 20 years old or younger 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 the 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.

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