Minors Score More Tobacco Products At Convenience Stores Selling Gas

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Clerks who work in convenience stores that sell gasoline are the most likely to sell tobacco to minors.

Most states require buyers of tobacco products to be 18 years old.

"We were surprised that gas-convenience stores were at highest risk for tobacco sales," said lead author Dave Pearson, of the Group Health Community Foundation in Seattle.

When compared to other retailers such as restaurants, bars and tobacco discount stores, convenience stores selling gas sold the most tobacco products during random checks, according to the study appearing in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

To cut down smoking among young people, most states use "youth operatives" to measure compliance with state age requirements. The researchers analyzed data from 8,879 such compliance checks done throughout King County in Washington State between January 2001 and March 2005. Ninety-one youth operatives, ages 14 to 17, conducted the checks.

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By checking whether "a sale was made" to a minor, the study found overall underage tobacco sales were 7.7 percent for the study period. Convenience stores selling gas had 9.3 percent of sales, compared with 3.4 percent for tobacco stores, 5.2 percent for restaurants and 7.4 percent for grocery stores.

Pearson said there might be something about gas stations that results in lack of attention to the age requirements. It could be the combination of customers wanting to get in and out fast and clerks being required to multi-task; for example, watching the counter and gas pumps while making financial transactions.

The authors also found that clerks under 18 had "very high" sales to minors, as did female clerks. However, sales to minors dropped when the clerk asked for ID or age of the buyer.

Pearson said to keep tobacco sales to minors low, states must continue to educate retailers and emphasize the importance of asking people to state their age and show ID. The federal government also offers states an incentive to comply.

"The federal Synar Amendment requires states to implement compliance check systems to verify that youth tobacco sales stay below 20 percent to receive federal substance abuse prevention and treatment dollars," Pearson said.

Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, agrees that compliance checks are important. "The more compliance checks you do, the more compliance you get, which makes it harder for kids to get cigarettes and sends a consistent message about the product," he said.

"Having an age requirement law on the books isn't enough, however," McGoldrick added. "You have to enforce it with regular compliance checks and meaningful penalties [fines] because, unfortunately, it's all these vendors understand."

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