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Underage sales and enforcement focus on the rise in Rhode Island

Ron’s takeaways

  • Enforcement efforts will ramp up in Rhode island
  • This is due to a 80% increase in underage sales rates
  • This follows the industry trends of ramping up enforcement and compliance efforts
  • Minor Decliner is ready to partner with state agencies to reduce the underage sales rates

 From the PROVIDENCE Journal

RI hospital agency enlisted in fight to ban under-21 smoking, vaping

 A new state law has given the state's embattled hospital agency a beefed up role in enforcing a ban on the sale of cigarettes and other nicotine products to anyone under age 21.

 The new law passed by lawmakers — and signed by Gov. Dan McKee — makes retailers who sell to underage individuals subject to both federal and state penalties, ranging from graduated monetary penalties and possible license suspensions to federal No-Tobacco-Sale Orders.

 Repeat violators face fines of up to $1,500 and a 90-day suspension of their license to sell tobacco and electronic nicotine-delivery systems. The law mirrors a 2019 federal law, and it appears the state's Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, "in collaboration with its municipal partners,'' is responsible for "conducting inspections of all licensed retailers of tobacco and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems."

 On Friday, BHDDH and the Department of Health issued a public reminder. It included this context from Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the state health director:

 While Rhode Island has "been a national leader'' in efforts to curb youth tobacco use,  "emerging tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products that appeal mainly to youth have threatened to reverse these gains ... [and] get a new generation hooked on highly addictive tobacco products and nicotine."

 "Each year approximately 1,800 Rhode Islanders lose their lives to smoking. This bill will help reduce the number of young people who take up smoking and help reduce rates of these preventable deaths in every ZIP code in Rhode Island,'' she said.

 BHDDH was already required to "aggressively enforce health rules and regulations pertaining to stopping the illegal sale of tobacco products to children." The new law extends that responsibility to the "sale of electronic nicotine-delivery system products to individuals under 21 years of age."

 A 2020 survey by BHDDH "found that underage inspectors aged 16-19 were successful in 22.5% of their purchase attempts. This represents an 80% increase from the 2019 retailer violation rate of 12.5%.

 "In almost all the successful purchase attempts, the clerk did not check for photo identification as required by state and federal law before making the illegal sale." It is not clear who conducted the survey.

 A question-and-answer exchange with BHDDH spokesman Randal Edgar on Saturday went like this:

 Who will do the unannounced inspections? Answer: "BHDDH's Tobacco Enforcement Unit, with municipal police and trained youth and young adults. " Does BHDDH need additional employees to do this?  "No...The unit has 4 people who are responsible for ensuring compliance with federal and state tobacco laws as it relates to sales to people of a legal age. "

 What is the significance of the 2020 survey? "The underage sales rate was up 80 percent. "

Who are BHDDH's  " municipal partners"?  Answer: "Municipal police, who assist with enforcement, and municipal prevention coalitions, who help with vendor training and sharing the results of enforcement efforts."