For kids, finding cigs easy as ABC

In just one month last fall, local health officials issued fines to almost 300 stores that peddle cigarettes for selling them to underage smokers.

Hundreds of stores get fined every year, according to city figures, a disturbing amount of nonchalance when it comes to youth smoking that has pushed Philadelphia atop a list of big cities when it comes to youth smoking.

Cheap prices and so many stores that sell packs has led to youth smoking declines seemingly hit a wall the past couple years.

Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who sponsored a new law that nearly tripled fines for cigarette sellers to minors last month, said the city still needs strong enforcement for it to work.

The number of tobacco retailers in Philadelphia surpasses that of most other large cities. A state tobacco license only costs $25. Of the city’s 4,398 tobacco retailers — one retailer for every 37 kids ages 10 to 17 — 75 percent are located within two blocks of a school.

“Youth are constantly bombarded with advertisements and appearances of cigarettes in stores,” said Deborah Brown, president/CEO of American Lung Association of Mid-Atlantic.

Annual testing

Every tobacco vendor in the city is tested at least once a year. Vendors cited are
targeted for repeat testing again in the same year.

Lauren Gemberling, program manager for the Philadelphia Health Promotion Council, said the citation rate is usually around 22 percent, but has noticeably increased recently, and while takeout restaurants once were by far the biggest offenders, all types of vendors are selling to youth now, even chains.

She said the sagging economy may be to blame.

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