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Study finds increase in tobacco sales to minors

CONCORD — New Hampshire tobacco retail sales to youth were higher in 2015 compared with the previous year, according to a new report from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. A survey of 338 randomly selected licensed tobacco outlets across the State found that 16.6 percent of tobacco retail sales in 2015 were to children under that age of 18, an uptick from 2014, when 14.4 percent of sales were to youth.

"We've seen a slight but troubling increase in tobacco sales to young adults in recent years," said Joe Harding, Director of the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services at DHHS. "Using tobacco is unsafe at any age, but poses a greater risk to the developing brains of New Hampshire youth. As a result, DHHS is working with the Division of Liquor Enforcement to develop a more diverse array of products and tools to educate merchants and youth."

The number of sales to youth is not the same as actual tobacco use among youth. According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the rates of youth smoking in New Hampshire have declined 10.5 percent more than the past five years, from 27.9 percent in 2011 to 17.4 percent in 2015.

However, while use of tobacco products among youth is on the decline, some young smokers purchase products directly from a licensed tobacco retailer. Data from the 2015 YRBS shows that 13.6 percent of the 14,837 students who answered this question report they get their cigarettes from a store or gas station, indicating a need to improve merchant education and enforcement in New Hampshire.

"Obviously we strive for 100 percent compliance with New Hampshire's tobacco laws, but these data show we have work to do," Harding said. "We understand that some retailers struggle with turnover and we are developing tools to help them train staff and educate the public about the State's tobacco laws and related penalties."

The data were captured by the Synar compliance check program, a federally mandated effort from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, and includes reports from 338 merchants randomly selected out of 1,488 tobacco-licensed outlets across the State. In accordance with federal tobacco regulations, states are required to provide detailed information on progress made in enforcing youth tobacco access laws. The Annual Synar Report format provides the means for states to comply with the reporting provisions of the Public Health Services Act (42 U.S.C. 300x-26) and Tobacco Regulation for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) (45 C.F.R. 96.130 (e)). The results of the report, 16.6 percent of sales to minors, is below the federal Synar requirement of less than 20 percent.

To read the full version of the 2017 NH Synar Results, visit the DHHS BDAS data page at www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcbcs/bdas/data.htm.