Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Hawaii among
nation’s top 4 in
curbing teen smoking

By Helen Altonn


Hawaii is one of the nation's four leading states in reduced sales of cigarettes to teens, the state Health Department's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division reported today.

art The number of Hawaii stores selling cigarettes to youth has dropped from 44 percent in 1996 to 11.3 percent because of inspections, fines and cooperative merchants, the division said.

"We're going in the right direction," said Elaine Wilson, division chief. But Vermont, Florida and Maine are doing better, she said. "Maine is at 3.9 percent, which is almost unbelievable."

The rest of the states are nearer 20 percent and "a few are in real trouble with the law," she said.

The federal law requires states to reduce teen cigarette sales to below 20 percent or lose federal funding.

Hawaii could have lost $2.7 million, or 40 percent of its federal funds for alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment, Wilson said.

While results after four years of inspections are encouraging, Wilson said: "Our clear message is we're 'The Health State.' We should not be No. 4 in this. Merchants have got to stop selling if it's going to make a difference in teen smoking."

Education of students on health risks also is being stepped up this fall through alcohol and drug treatment programs in high schools, Wilson said.

The Alcohol and Drug Division and University of Hawaii Cancer Research Center launched K.A.T.S. -- Kids Against Tobacco Sales -- four years ago.

Trained youths 15 to 17 years old attempt to buy cigarettes under supervision of an adult volunteer or enforcement officer.

Results of inspections this spring were to be announced at a picnic today at Kakaako Park for the students and other program participants.

The volunteers and observers this year visited 426 randomly selected stores. Only 48 stores sold cigarettes to the minors. Sales have steadily declined since 1996, from 44 percent to 22.8 percent in 1997 and 15 percent in 1998.

Besides the scientifically based, random sample of stores inspected, inspections are done statewide with police who issue citations for violations of the state law, Wilson said.

The fine is $500 for the first offense, and some people have had at least two $500 fines, Wilson said.

Another inspection is done under a contract with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to enforce federal regulations on tobacco sales.

Wilson said 810 inspections were done under a $212,000 federal contract last year and about 300 more stores will be inspected under a $306,495 contract for the coming year.

To avoid sales to youth under age 18, stores are required to check photo identification of all customers who appear younger than 27.

A warning is issued for the first offense under the federal law and a $250 fine imposed for the second one. "It is not really high enough," Wilson said.

But the federal money has enabled tripling of stores inspected, she said. About 127 retail outlets will be inspected every month, she said.

Wilson noted research showing sales rates below 5 percent result in decreased youth smoking. "We'd like to get to 5 percent, then to zero," she said.

Meanwhile, she said people will be trained to try and halt teen smoking through tobacco cessation courses as part of alcohol and drug abuse programs in high schools.

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