On the heels of our recent story about the increase in retailers throughout Washington caught selling tobacco to kids in 2012 came news out of King County Wednesday that retailers here were busted selling tobacco to minors 92 times this year. According to the King County-Seattle Public Health department, this equates to an illegal sales rate of over eight percent.
Overall, the Seattle-King County Public Health department says the county's eight percent illegal sales rate reflects a drop from the 12 percent rate recorded in 2011, but is a spike from the six percent average tallied from 2006-2010.
As we noted on The Daily Weekly last week, according to the Department of Health, statewide the rate of retailers caught illegally selling tobacco to minors rose to roughly 16 percent this year. But that number - collected via federally mandated compliance checks (known as Synar checks) carried out almost entirely by the Liquor Control Board - is a calculation based on checks from January to June each year, and is different from the number released Wednesday by Seattle-King County Public Health.
While the Liquor Control Board's Synar compliance checks - which are required under federal law and tied to federal funding for DSHS drug and alcohol abuse/prevention programs - happen over the span of the first six months of each year, the numbers released Wednesday by King County Public Health reflect compliance checks carried out by the county from from January 1 through December 5 this year.
It gets a little confusing. While the Synar checks are mostly carried out by the Liquor Control Board throughout the state, in King County, according to Scott Neal, Tobacco Prevention Program Manager for Seattle-King County Public Health, the Liquor Control Board and Seattle-King County Public Health have an agreement in place which lets the Public Health department do the checks - with the findings then forwarded to the state Health Department to be included in its Synar numbers (helping to make up the 16 percent number that was reported last week).
But in addition to the 150 or so checks Seattle-King County Public Health does for the state on behalf of the Liquor Control Board, Neal says Seattle-King County Public Health does about 1050 more throughout the year - with a goal of conducting 1200 in total. Altogether - combining Synar checks and the additional, county checks - the results accumulated make up the 8 percent figure Seattle-King County Public Health reported Wednesday.
According to Neal, the additional checks, while not federally mandated, are part of the agency's overall tobacco prevention efforts, and are paid for by tobacco retailer licensing fees.
"We have about 2000 retailers, so we don't quite hit everyone. Based on our current funding, we just don't have the time and resources to do that," says Neal. "We used to be able to hit every place once."
Further complicating things, in addition to Synar compliance checks and the above-and-beyond checks conducted by Seattle-King County Public Health, Neal says the feds also conduct tobacco sales compliance checks in Washington - levying federal enforcements to law-breakers. For the federal compliance checks, Neal says the Food and Drug Administration contracts the work out to the state Liquor Control.
"It can get confusing for retailers," says Neal of the three different levels of tobacco sales compliance checks in Washington. "But it's not confusing if they don't sell tobacco to minors."
To up the shame factor, Seattle-King County Public Health has produced this list of all 92 retailers (by city) who got caught selling tobacco to kids this year: