It’s Getting Easier for Maryland Kids to Buy Cigarettes

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Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 5.29.48 PMIn Maryland, kids don’t have to work too hard to start smoking. According to the state’s health department, almost a third of the state’s stores will gladly sell cigarettes to kids without checking their IDs.

A study commissioned by the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that 30 percent of Maryland retailers sell cigarettes to underage buyers. In addition to promoting youth smoking while kids’ bodies are still developing, it’s also against the law to sell smokes to kids under 18.

The study included random inspections of retailers over the last two years. From 2012-2013, inspections showed that about 24 percent of retailers sold cigarettes to kids. They conducted another round of inspections from May-September of 2014, and found that the number of retailers was up to about 32 percent.

“It is embarrassing that cigarettes are easier for kids to get in Maryland than everywhere else,” Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a statement. “Legislation is needed so that retailers who violate the law and sell tobacco to minors are at risk of losing their licenses.”

The ease of buying cigarettes is a major focus of health advocates who are working to curb smoking rates because 90 percent of smokers start before they are 18. Nationwide data states that about a quarter of underage youth who smoke say that they buy their own cigarettes. Maryland law states that anyone younger than 27 is supposed to be ID’d when they buy tobacco.

As part of the legislation that Sharfstein mentioned, the state health department wants to ramp up enforcement by making violations a civil offense for store owners, and include license suspensions among the punishment. They also want to require additional licenses for store owners who want to sell flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes, both of which are specifically targeted at children and are major gateways for youth who start smoking.

Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the editor of Baltimore and an editor-at-large of Baltimore Fishbowl.

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