Arizona minors smoking cigarettes poses a compelling threat on their health. The National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids (NCTFK) estimates that 22,000 minors become new smokers in Arizona each year. As adults, we know that cigarettes are connected to long-term health problems and cancer, so rates have been declining in recent years. Youth consumption of tobacco products, however, is still on the rise. NCTFK states that we spend $876 million annually in tobacco-related health care, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 100,000 minors are projected to die before their time as a direct result of cigarette smoking.
In response to this problem on a national scale, Congress created the Synar Amendment, which requires all states to pass laws that prohibit both the sale and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products to persons under 18. Written in the law are provisions that mandate random checks of retail outlets that sell tobacco products, and report the outcomes to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
In exchange for compliance, the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program awards block grants to states. However, if states are noncompliant, the DHHS can withhold up to 40% of the funding. The state of Arizona receives nearly $30 million a year from this grant, $12 million of which is contingent upon Arizona keeping its underage sales rate under 20%. This creates pressing motivation to crack down on underage tobacco sales.
Though Arizona, like most states, prohibits the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to minors, the attorney general stated that laws were not stringent enough to meet the requirements laid out by the Synar amendment. Specifically, lawmakers thought that retailers should face punishment for selling to minors, whether they knew the individual was a minor or not. Previously, the law also did not require that retailers prohibit direct access to cigarettes, nor did it mandate that retailers post signs that selling to minors was illegal.
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, nearly 50% of Arizona minors smoking cigarettes make their purchases at convenience stores or gas stations. An additional 20% bought tobacco products at supermarkets.
In response to this information, state lawmakers passed the Youth Tobacco Act, which upgraded the sale of tobacco products to minors as a Class 3 misdemeanor. It also established civil penalties for retailers that sell tobacco to minors, as well as minors who possess tobacco. The law also ordered stores to post signs that selling tobacco to minors was illegal, and prevented direct access to tobacco products.
A Class 3 misdemeanor is punishable by up to $500 in fines and 30 days of jail time, whichever the courts deem worthy. But, according to Arizona law, anyone over the age of 18 who commits repeated offenses of the same kind may face harsher sentencing. Time served for previous convictions does not apply to new sentences. The individual must have gone at least two years without convictions in order to prevent previous offenses from impacting the sentence for the current conviction.
Repeat offenders can face up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. In response to the threat to public health and the safety of our state’s minors, lawmakers are cracking down on the sale of tobacco products to minors. Retailers have a responsibility to the public to ensure that they sell their tobacco products only to those legally allowed to purchase them. Negligence in this duty can result in heavy fines and for repeat offenders, jail time.
If you’re facing charges of the sale of tobacco products to Arizona minors, please contact the Orent Law Offices for a free case evaluation. A Phoenix juvenile crime lawyer can review your case and discuss the options available to you.