Illegal sales of cigarettes to minors in California rise to 8.7% in 2012 from 5.6% in 2011, the state's first such increase in three years, according to report

LOS ANGELES , December 13, 2012 () – Illegal sales of cigarettes to minors has increased for the first time in three years across California, and the use of smokeless tobacco products such as snus are rising among youth, according to a first-of-its-kind report released by state public health officials on Thursday.

This year alone, illegal tobacco sales to minors rose to 8.7 percent from 5.6 percent in 2011. Many of those sales come from non-traditional stores such as doughnut shops, discount stores, deli, meat or produce markets, health officials said during a press conference.

Sales at those outlets rose the largest percentage from 10.5 percent in 2011 to 20.3 percent this year, state public health officials said. Smoking may be down across California, but sales of other tobacco and nicotine products have risen over the last decade. "We felt there was new concerning information that we wanted to put out to the public," said Dr. Ron Chapman, state health director who said the report was the first of its kind to be produced by his department.

Chapman said while the good news was that fewer teenagers smoke in California than almost anywhere else in the country, the use of smokeless tobacco such as snus rose from 3.1 percent in 2004 to 3.9 percent in 2010.

Snus is a moist powder that is placed under the lip.

"Snus is particularly worrisome," Chapman said. "The tobacco industry has promoted snus as a way to get around policies and laws that prohibit smoking."

Colleen Stevens, branch chief of the state's tobacco control program, said other products are emerging as well such as orbs, which look like Tic Tacs, and tobacco strips that look similar to breath strips.

"Some of these products are flying under the radar," Stevens said. "People can use it at the work site."

Stevens said orbs and strips are so new that the health effects are still unclear. But one factor is certain: "These keep a lot of people addicted," Stevens said. "For kids, they could put these in their pockets or backpacks."

Chapman also said he was still concerned with the increase of smokers between the ages of 18 to 24, a time when young people leave smoke-free families and homes and begin to experiment.

The report also found:

Since the beginning of the California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP), the adult smoking rate has decreased from 23 percent in 1988 to 12 percent in 2011.

Cigars and cigarillos remain popular with youth, because at 70 cents each, they are affordable.

The popularity of hookah smoking has increased among young adults, exposing them to both tobacco use and secondhand smoke. Smoking a hookah for 45 to 60 minutes can be equivalent to smoking 100 or more cigarettes, health officials said.


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