MASON COUNTY— In an effort to prevent and reduce retailer violations of state code and the Synar Amendment, retailers have recently received material to help them identify underage youths that may attempt to purchase tobacco products.
Synar is a federally-funded program that the SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention oversees across the United States under the Synar Amendment. The amendment requires states to have laws in place prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco products to persons under the age of 18.
The county’s Family Resource Network Executive Director, Greg Fowler, said the program is implemented every year, but the number of randomly selected retail destinations in the county, picked by state officials, for the program has increased from six locations to 11 this year.
The concept of the program is to send an underage youth to randomly selected retail destinations with a state police officer in civilian clothes, Fowler said. The youth will attempt to purchase tobacco, and should the retailer sell the underage youth tobacco products, the state police will issue a citation and the business will have to pay a fine.
“The reason for the program is for everybody to understand that we’re not supposed to sell tobacco to a youth,” Fowler said.
Fowler also said that if too many retailers sell to underage youths, the state will lose federal funding for the program. Specifically, the state of West Virginia could lose $3.5 million annually in federal block grant dollars for treatment and prevention services if the state-wide noncompliance retailer violation rate is more than 20 percent.
Retailers throughout the state recently received education materials called, “See Red?”, which aid retailers in complying with the state law (W.Va. State Code 16-9A-2.) The tobacco products that are illegal to sell to youths under 18 include; cigarettes, cigarette papers, pipes, cigars, blunts, small cigars (cigarillos,) snuff and chewing tobacco.
The educational material includes two flyers and register stickers, and was developed for ease in reminding retailers what to look for on forms of identification. Specifically, there are two W. Va. graduated driver’s licenses for youth under the age of 18 that are currently valid. One has a vibrant red background with a yellow bar along the side of the photo that shows the date the person turns 18 (‘Turns 18 On__’), and one still has a red background but has the dates the youth turns 18 and 21 listed in the upper right-hand corner of the license.
“Clerks right off the bat should know if it’s an underage person, and unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t make any difference and they sell it to them anyway. The idea is for them not to sell. We don’t want any business selling tobacco to a minor,” Fowler said.