Oklahoma to crack down on underage smoking

Thursday, August 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The state will step up efforts to keep cigarettes out of the hands of minors to avoid losing $8 million in federal funds earmarked for substance-abuse intervention programs.

Gary Davidson, director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, said Wednesday that enforcement will increase immediately to keep cigarettes out of the hands of younger Oklahomans.

Davidson said he expects more citations will be given to convenience stores, supermarkets and other retail outlets that sell to Oklahomans under 18.

Oklahoma has 5,500 businesses where cigarettes are sold. The total includes 3,500 convenience stores, gasoline stations, grocery stores, bowling alleys, bars, hotels and motels.

``Most merchandisers want to obey the law, but we'll always have folks who'll place short-term profits over what they ought to do and need to do,'' Davidson said.

``We care about the law, and we value the future of our children,'' he said.

The federal government has set an 80 percent compliance rate for licensed vendors. The Oklahoma compliance rate is 73.8 percent, Davidson said.

The state could lose its federal funds by Oct 1. At least one state, Missouri, has lost federal funds because of low compliance rates.

The state Health Department is pushing for a 90 percent compliance rate.

Commission agents and local law enforcement officers will increase operations using underage sting recruits _ usually 15- to 17- year-olds _ attempting to buy cigarettes, said Davidson and James M. Cox Jr., director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police.

If cigarettes are bought illegally by minors, fines range from $100 for a first offense to $300 for a third offense within one year. Failure to pay a fine can lead to the driver's license of the cigarette seller being suspended.

Cox said 77 communities in Oklahoma _ including Oklahoma City and Tulsa _ have local ordinances prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors. Cox said law enforcement officials in those cities are being urged to intensify compliance measures.

Cox said he plans to send a fax to 340 police chiefs and 77 sheriffs to include cigarettes in investigations of illegal sales of beer to minors.

According to the most recent Oklahoma Youth Tobacco Survey, an estimated 83,000 high school and middle school students in Oklahoma regularly smoke cigarettes, spending an estimated $18 million a year.

Among Oklahoma high school smokers surveyed, 56 percent reported they bought their last pack of cigarettes at a gasoline station or convenience store. More than half of high school smokers said they were not asked for identification before purchasing cigarettes.