SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - It is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18, but sting operations in Santa Barbara County find it does happen.
This year in the county, the rate of cigarette sales to minors has dropped slightly from last year.
The Tobacco Prevention Settlement Program of the Public Health Department sends underage youth to stores that sell cigarettes. The hope is that the store clerk will check their identification and not sell to them, but some stores are getting caught.
Parker Hamilton works at Talevi's in Santa Barbara and remembers when his store got caught selling cigarettes to minors.
"It does happen, they catch us at our worst. They come in and catch you. That's that, you know? They get you," he said.
But since then, Hamilton's store has stepped up and even has certification from the county showing their compliance.
"When you get one of these and they tell you passed, you're like, 'We passed. Good thing.' But it's very easy to pass," he said.
One of the ways for stores to make sure minors can't buy cigarettes, is to use ID scanners.
"And if it's tobacco or alcohol, they should be checking IDs," said Dawn Dunn.
Dunn is the Tobacco Prevention program's administrator. She's been organizing tobacco sale stings since the late 1980s and since then, she said progress has been made.
"In our early undercover buys there was close to an 85 percent rate of sales to children," said Dunn.
But now, there's a new frontier. E-Cigarettes are attracting younger smokers because they are easy to hid, smokeless and come in flashy colors and flavors.
"We believe and what we are seeing and hearing is that an entire generation is being exposed to nicotine addiction," said Dunn.
This year in Santa Barbara County, 48 of the 301 stores checked, sold cigarettes to minors.
The rate of 16 percent is down 1 percent from last year. However, it is still double the statewide average.
Hamilton said work still needs to be done, but is glad to see many stores following the law.
"I've never been in trouble and I don't plan to," he said.
The penalties for stores that sell to minors can be steep. During sting operations where law enforcement is involved, the store clerk who sells to a minor can get a ticket and the store can be suspended from selling any tobacco for up to 30 days.
2013 Rates of Illegal Sale of Tobacco to Minors
|Community||Sales Rate 2012||Sales Rate 2013|
Public Health Department 22 October 2013