ATLANTA – While the average retailer profit on a pack of cigarettes is less than a dollar, those who sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to people under the age of 18 risk fines starting at $300 per incident and the possibility of criminal prosecution. Those possible costs to retailers are on top of the very real costs paid by Georgians every year. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable illness and death in Georgia, with over 10,000 adult Georgians dying annually from smoking-related illnesses, and the healthcare costs and loss of productivity attributable to smoking cost Georgians over $5.2 billon a year. Many of those adults who suffer death and illness will have been addicted to cigarettes since they were teens.
That’s why this summer the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Revenue, Alcohol & Tobacco Division (DOR), is conducting a campaign to remind retailers, young people, and the public at large that selling cigarettes and tobacco products to those under 18 is against the law in Georgia and that retailers are required to check a buyer’s ID every time anyone who looks less than 26 years old tries to buy tobacco products. DBHDD’s education campaign includes ads on TV, radio, web sites, and in movie theatres, as well as making use of social media such as Facebook. In addition, DOR’s Alcohol & Tobacco Division will be conducting compliance checks at retail locations such as gas stations and convenience stores where an estimated one-third of high school smokers buy their cigarettes.
“An addiction to cigarettes can be difficult to break,” said Brenda Rowe, PhD, director of the Office of Prevention Services and Programs. “The prospect of illness and death is often too far off to motivate young smokers to quit. The best approach is to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use by preventing its onset. One way to limit youths’ access to tobacco is by holding retailers accountable and making sure they adhere to the laws of our state that prohibit selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors.”
The tobacco surveillance and education campaign undertaken by DBHDD and the Department of Revenue are part of the State’s responsibilities under the Synar Amendment to the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant. The Center for Substance Abuse and Prevention (CSAP), which oversees implementation of the Synar Amendment, requires states to conduct annual random, unannounced inspections to ensure compliance with the law and to submit an annual Synar Report detailing the State’s activities to enforce the law. Georgia has maintained a retailer violation rate (RVR) below 20% since 2001, keeping it in compliance with the federal statute. The state’s RVR was 8.1% in 2008 and 12.1% in 2009.
The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, which began operations on July 1, 2009, is the State’s new department responsible for services, programs, and policies for mental health, developmental disabilities, and addictive diseases.