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State auditor finds missed chances in anti-tobacco program for kids

June 18, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy
  • California has a program aimed at reducing smoking by minors.
California has a program aimed at reducing smoking by minors. (Associated Press )

The state is missing an opportunity to take action against many stores that sell cigarettes to minors, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

Auditor Elaine Howle said a program run by the California Department of Public Health used a third party to do an annual retailer assessment that found 160 clerks sold tobacco to minors during the last three years.

“However, because the purpose of the annual retailer assessment does not include taking enforcement action against the violating retailers, Public Health’s Tobacco Control Branch does not notify these retailers or take action against those who sold tobacco to minors,” Howle wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown.

If the Tobacco Control Branch were to share this information with the Food and Drug Branch, the latter could target potential violators when  conducting compliance inspections, then impose civil penalties when violations are found, she said.

In September 1994, the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act  was signed into law, creating a new statewide enforcement law by conducting sting operations using 15- and 16-year-olds granted immunity, operating a toll-free number for the public to report illegal sales and assessing fines of up to $6,000 against store owners who violate the law.

During the last three years, the department’s Food and Drug Branch conducted 11,500 inspections and issued more than 1,700 citations with $1.1 million in penalties.

Howle’s audit also found the state could do a better job with its accounting.

The audit found the Public Health Department undercharged local governments by $207,000 for the cost of 2,500 compliance inspections it conducted.

The department responded with a statement saying it "agrees with the audit findings and will work to implement the recommendations."

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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