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City Manager's Office
Press Contact: Marcia Brown-Machen, MPH, Public Health, (510) 981-5309

Berkeley tobacco retailers say "no" to teens buying tobacco

Berkeley, California (Tuesday, April 27, 2010) - If you want to buy tobacco in Berkeley, you better have identification. In a recent tobacco sting operation, only one store out of 43 surveyed sold tobacco to a 15-year-old. The rate at which Berkeley tobacco retailers sell tobacco to minors has fallen from 37 percent in 2002 to just 2.3 percent this year.

The youth tobacco purchase survey – or tobacco sting operation-- tests how well Berkeley’s tobacco vendors comply with the California Penal Code 308(a), which prohibits the sale of tobacco to minors. During the sting, a 15- or 16-year-old trained youth decoy attempts to purchase a tobacco product while an undercover police officer watches. If the merchant sells the tobacco product, the salesperson receives a $200 citation.

This 16-fold reduction in sales to minors is partially attributed to Berkeley’s tobacco retail permit law (Berkeley Municipal Code 9.80), which went into effect in 2003. Tobacco retailers must pay a $480 annual fee for a permit, which can be suspended for 30 days or longer each time a tobacco control violation occurs. 

"This is the lowest youth tobacco sales rate we've ever measured, thanks to merchants who did the right thing by asking for identification and saying ‘No’ to teen buyers," said Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman.

"We’re also proud of the collaboration between the Public Health Division, the Police Department, the Environmental Health Division and YouthWorks," Berreman said. "Reducing youth access to tobacco is one way the City is working to reduce tobacco-related health inequities and prevent heart disease, cancer, stokes, diabetes and hypertension in our community."

Funders for the collaborative youth tobacco purchase survey program include the Berkeley Police Department, tobacco retailer permit fees, California’s quarter a pack tax on tobacco from the California Department of Health Services, and the Alameda County Tobacco Control Program, through the Alameda County Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement funds.
For more information, contact Marcia Brown-Machen, MPH, Senior Health Services Program Specialist/Tobacco Prevention, at (510) 981-5309 or mbrown-machen@CityofBerkeley.info.


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