Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Restricting youth access to tobacco on Council agenda

On July 31, CMs Mendelson (At-large) and Alexander (Ward 7) introduced B18-428, "Prohibition Against Selling Tobacco Products to Minors Amendment Act of 2009."   (See August 9 blog post.)

Comparing the bill to current legislation, the City Council is interested in restricting youth access to tobacco products.   A side-by-side comparison of the two, current and proposed, laws illustrates that some additional requirements are being placed on retailers and conditions on purchasing tobacco by individuals.   The proposal also tackles the issue of blunts, classifying them as "drug paraphernalia."

On the heels of the DC introduction, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that tobacco sales to youth has reached historic lows under the federal Synar Amendment.   This amendment resulted in a federal/state partnership designed to end illegal tobacco sales to those under age 18.   According to the press release,
The Synar Amendment (introduced by the late Representative Mike Synar of Oklahoma) requires states to have laws and enforcement programs for prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco to persons under age 18.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have for the third year in a row achieved a major Synar program goal – a less than 20 percent non-compliance rate among tobacco product retailers.   This stands in sharp contrast with the situation 12 years ago at the Synar program’s inception when the highest reported non-compliance rate was 75 percent.

According to FFY 2008 Annual Synar Reports: State Compliance, DC's retailer violation rate was 15.7%, the same as Maryland's and higher than Virginia's at 9.7%.   Other states with high violation rates are Connecticut (14%), Indiana (14.7%), and Michigan (15.3%).   The reports states with the lowest rates and describes their exemplary and innovative work toward ending youth access to tobacco products. The overarching recommendation of the report is for states to institute comprehensive approaches including guaranteed funding.

The Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary (Mendelson, chair) will consider B18-428.   There is no indication, yet, as to what will happen with this bill, whether it will be changed, passed as introduced, or left to die in committee.