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After raising age for tobacco purchases, California sees decreased sales to minors

Jocelyn Wiener, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

The new report shows that how well retailers comply with the new age limits also varies geographically: Retailers in Los Angeles sold to underage buyers much more frequently than did those in the Bay Area.

"There are always kids that come around," said an employee of Sana Market and Liquor on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, who did not want his name published so he could speak freely.

He said the market -- which carries snacks and alcohol in addition to cigarettes -- is very strict about checking IDs.

They also refuse to sell to adults when it is clear they are trying to buy for someone under legal purchasing age. So-called shoulder-tap buys continue to be a problem, according to the study.

Still, said the employee, there is only so much the law can do: "Whoever is going to smoke is going to smoke."

Nearby, just off upscale Piedmont Avenue, Stephen Richman, the longtime owner of The Piedmont Tobacconist, said he supports the increased age of sale. Even before the new law, he said, teenagers rarely tried to buy from his shop, with its wood-paneled walls, leather lounge chairs and background jazz.

He pointed to a big, yellow sticker on the cash register that read: "The Sale of Tobacco Products to Persons Under 21 Years of Age is Prohibited by Law and Subject to Penalties."

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"This discourages them," he said.

Occasionally, he said, a young person comes in hoping to buy a cigar to hollow out and fill with marijuana. When they hear the price, he added, they usually leave.

(Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.)

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