Tobacco non-compliance could lead to loss of state funds
Updated 12:08 pm, Sunday, October 9, 2011
After authorities conducted nine unannounced inspections last week, only CVS Pharmacy was sited for selling tobacco to minors.
The New Canaan Police Department, along with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Tobacco Prevention and Enforcement Program, had the inspections to determine whether local stores were in compliance with state law, which prohibits sale of cigarettes to those under 18.
Police said they send in an underage teen to each establishment, under the direction of a DMHAS investigator, to purchase tobacco products. Out of the nine inspections, CVS Pharmacy sold a tobacco product to the minor and was issued an infraction summons.
The eight New Canaan establishments that were found to be in compliance:
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Walgreen's, 36 Pine St.
Food Emporium, 288 Elm St.
Best Cellars, 282 Elm St.
Mobil Station, 16 South Ave.
Stewart's Spirits, 227 Elm St.
Gulf Station, 36 South Ave.
Vegetable Barn, 22 Cross St.
MacKenzie's, 7 South Ave.
The DMHAS will conduct a follow-up with the store owner of CVS regarding the violation.
"For the past six years, we have been trying to do the inspections at least twice a year," Ogrinc said. "Last year and this year was the first time, since I have been doing this, that we had some stores not complying."
The last inspection in 2010 included three stores -- the Mobil Station, Veggie Barn and MacKenzie's -- selling tobacco products to minors.
"We almost ran out of money to give to the teens that were buying the tobacco," Ogrinc said. "I was pretty surprised last year. This year was surprising as well. I did not expect CVS to fail the inspection."
Ogrinc said Porto's department hired the kids this year and brought them down for the inspections.
"In the past, we have used kids from New Canaan but we found it better to try it with unknown faces," Ogrinc said. "Most of the people and retailers in town know me and some of the teens in town, so it is better to use the DMHAS in these cases."
According to the DHMAS, they train and pay the teens chosen for the inspections and they all have to be either 16 or 17 years old.
"They know exactly what their job is," Ogrinc said. "For this past inspection we had a 17-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl."
The teens are also told not to look too mature Ogrinc said.
"Usually, more often time than not they appear younger," she said. "They are told not to wear any makeup or anything like that. The goal is to have them look their age. We aren't trying to trick anyone at all. So their age and look is not unclear. We want them to look like 16 and 17 year olds."
As far as their interactions with the sellers, Ogrinc said they are not supposed to plead for the product.
"They are really just supposed to ask for the tobacco and answer all the questions the retailer asks them truthfully," she said. "So they do not use any fake IDs and they give them their real birthday if they are asked. More often than not, these non-compliant sellers are aware they are selling to minors."
Porto, or whichever, DMHAS agent is present at the time, generally follows the teens into the store shortly after they enter to keep an eye on how things progress.
"They obviously do not enter arm and arm," Ogrinc said. "But they get in there pretty quickly and stay within hearing distance in case a seller is not compliant."
The infraction summons is $200 for the seller of the product. If the same seller is found to be non-compliant once again within an 18 month period, the infraction increases to $300. Additionally, the cigarette dealer license holder at any non-compliant store also faces additional administrative sanctions the DHMAS said.
The goal of the TPEP is to discourage underage smoking. According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health's Youth Tobacco Component 2009 survey, 20.8 percent of students said they smoke cigarettes, which was down from 22.6 percent in 2007.
"This survey estimates that nearly 9,000 of Connecticut's middle and high school students smoked their first cigarette before age 11," said DPH Commissioner Dr. J. Robert Galvin. "Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. Many of these kids will become addicted before they are old enough to understand the risks of smoking. This survey provides valuable data for evaluating youth tobacco prevention efforts and cessation programs within our state."
In addition to fighting underage smoking, having retailers in compliance with all the laws allows the state to continue receiving federal funds. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), states are expected to be in compliance with a law put forward by Congressman Mike Synar of Oklahoma in 1992.
"The Synar program is the set of actions put in place by states, with the support of the federal government, to implement the requirements of the Synar Amendment," the SAMHSA website states. "The amendment was developed in the context of a growing body of evidence about the health problems related to tobacco use by youth, as well as evidence about the ease with which youth could purchase tobacco products through retail sources."
Based on the Synar guidelines, Connecticut must be sure no more than 20 percent of their tobacco retailers are non-compliant. If they fail to do so, then the state could lose up to 40 percent of its Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant funds. The federal funds account for a rather large percentage of all state expenditures for substance abuse treatment and prevention.