No retailers in Maui County made underage tobacco sales during an operation this spring where minors attempted to purchase cigarettes, the state Department of Health said Monday.
Teams made up of youth volunteers, ages 15 to 17, and adult observers visited a random sample of 209 stores statewide in which youths attempted to buy cigarettes to determine how well retailers were complying with state tobacco laws.
Statewide, nine stores, or 4.3 percent, sold to minors, the lowest rate since the survey was first conducted in 1996. Last year's rate was 6.1 percent.
Sales to a minor occurred less than 1.1 percent of the time if clerks asked for identification, a news release said.
Maui and Kauai counties logged no sales; Honolulu had six sales and the Big Island, three sales. The Health Department acknowledged that due to the small sample size, rates for individual counties are not considered statistically reliable.
"The declining rate for illegal tobacco sales to minors shows the department's efforts to educate store owners and retail clerks are working," said Health Director Loretta Fuddy. "However, now more than ever, with an increasing variety of tobacco products becoming available, we need to continue to be vigilant about protecting our youth."
The annual survey is a joint effort between the state Department of Health's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division and the University of Hawaii.
The survey monitors the state's compliance with federal regulations for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant. To continue to qualify for block grant funds, every state must enact and enforce laws that prohibit the sale or distribution of tobacco products to youths under the age of 18. States also are required to annually conduct random, unannounced inspections and document a rate of tobacco sales to minors of no more than 20 percent.
Hawaii law prohibits tobacco sales to people under the age of 18, and merchants convicted of selling to minors face a mandatory fine of $500.
The DOH Tobacco Prevention and Education Program has tools and training packets available at no cost to assist retailers. For more information, go to the website hawaii.gov/health/healthy-lifestyles/tobacco/index.html.