Illegal sales of tobacco to minors increased in some areas of Santa Barbara County in 2009, but the number decreased significantly in the city of Santa Barbara, according to data released Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

Guadalupe was the only city in the county that didn’t sell any tobacco to a minor during undercover buy operations last year.

Illegal sales increased in Goleta, Buellton, Lompoc, Solvang and unincorporated areas of the county compared with 2008’s rates, while sales decreased in Carpinteria and Santa Maria. In 2008, 18 percent of tobacco retailers in Santa Barbara sold to minors, vs. 2 percent in 2009. In Goleta, the rate increased from 13 percent in 2008 to 17 percent in 2009. Carpinteria reported a 4 percent drop, to 20 percent.

The Public Health Department works with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department to conduct annual undercover buys in which youths attempt to purchase tobacco products.

“I have been working on an initiative that I will be bringing to the Board (of Supervisors) shortly, which will set limits on tobacco retailing near schools throughout the county,” First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said.

Licensing laws in Santa Barbara County require that businesses selling tobacco products obtain an annual permit and abide by all tobacco-related laws, including those concerning sales to minors. Failure to comply results in a gradual series of penalties, with the potential for license suspension and a loss of their ability to sell tobacco products.

“Although tobacco licensing laws currently exist in the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta and in the unincorporated areas of the county, the existing laws are almost a decade old,” Tobacco Prevention Settlement Program administrator Dawn Dunn said. “An update of these laws would help because strong tobacco retail licensing laws are proven to have a positive and sustainable effect in reducing illegal sales to minors.”

Anyone with questions regarding tobacco sales to minors can call the Santa Barbara County Tobacco Prevention Settlement Program at 805.681.5407 or e-mail

Noozhawk managing editor Michelle Nelson can be reached at