Officials at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department have released the results of the annual undercover “tobacco buy” operations. The results indicate that sales to minors are down from last year in Goleta and the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County, and that no sales to minors occurred from undercover buys in Lompoc or Solvang.

The Public Health Department collaborates with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department to conduct annual undercover buys in which youths, ages 15 or 16, act as undercover operatives and try to purchase tobacco products. Results from the recent buys show that the unincorporated area’s rates are down to 10 percent this year from 15 percent last year. The city of Goleta also saw a decrease to 13 percent this year from 19 percent last year. The city of Santa Barbara had an 18 percent rate this year, up slightly from last year’s rate of 16 percent.

Tobacco licensing laws exist in Santa Barbara and Goleta and in the unincorporated areas of the county. Licensing laws require businesses that sell tobacco products to obtain an annual permit and abide by all tobacco related laws, especially those concerning sales to minors. Failure to comply with the law results in a gradual series of penalties with the potential for license suspension. Public Health and Sheriff Department officials attribute the results to the licensing laws and consistent enforcement over time.

Undercover buys were also conducted in Carpinteria, resulting in a 24 percent illegal sales rate, Buellton with a 17 percent illegal sales rate, Guadalupe, where rates were 14 percent, and Santa Maria at 13 percent. 

None of the tobacco retailers in Solvang and Lompoc sold tobacco products to the teen decoy during the annual checks. Comparison data are not available for these cities, since they have not been “shopped” in recent years, with the exception of Lompoc, whose sales rate was zero last year.

In each of the communities, 84 percent to 100 percent of all tobacco retail outlets were shopped, with the exception of Santa Barbara, where 33 percent of the stores were visited.

Sales of tobacco products to minors are monitored through routine unannounced enforcement operations. As a result of these local buys, five merchants face a potential 30-day suspension of the license. Details regarding specific stores that will be required to stop selling tobacco products will be released separately, pending the outcome of appeal hearings.

Anyone with questions regarding the enforcement of tobacco sales to minors is encouraged to contact the Tobacco Prevention Settlement Program at 805.681.5407 or

Dawn Dunn is a program administrator for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.