A mere 9.1 percent of American retailers sold tobacco to youth under the age of 18 in 2012, according to an annual survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
SAMHSA has published the Synar Report — named after the late public health advocate and former Democratic congressman Rep. Mike Synar (OK) — every year since 1997. The survey tracks each state’s findings on the number of stores selling tobacco to minors by using a combination of random audits and undercover youth inspectors who test whether or not merchants are hewing to cigarette age restrictions. Stores’ noncompliance rates have been plummeting ever since the states and SAMHSA started collecting data on their behavior, dropping by a staggering 77.25 percent over the last 15 years:
CREDIT: 2012 Synar Report/U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Report authors lauded the positive trend but cautioned that much work remains to be done, especially since the 2012 noncompliance figures are slightly higher than those from 2011. Maine had the lowest rate of noncompliance in the country at 1.8 percent, while Oregon had the highest at 17.9 percent — nearly double the national average.
Stores aren’t just selling fewer cigarettes to teens. American youth are smoking in record lows, too. A December 2012 study of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders found that just 10.6 percent of respondents admitted to smoking a cigarette in the last 30 days.
Public health experts say that curbing teen smoking even further requires focusing on early intervention and counseling efforts with young Americans and their parents. On Monday, an influential government panel of doctors and scientists recommended for the first time that primary care doctors get more personally involved with discouraging underage smoking by warning their younger patients about the risks of tobacco use. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 4,000 children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 try smoking for the first time every day. Tobacco use contributes to about 450,000 preventable deaths every year.