Tobacco sales to minors continue to be a problem in Santa Barbara County, and numbers released Tuesday by the county’s Public Health Department show that the rate of sales is almost triple the statewide average.
The latest numbers come from recent undercover operations where the health department worked with law enforcement and youth-serving agencies to find out which stores were selling the products illegally.
The project involved young people ages 15 to 17, who look under 18, carry valid state identification and don’t misrepresent their age in any way, a statement from the department said.
Plain-clothes law enforcement agents were involved in about 60 percent of the buys in which clerks were cited for violating state law.
Out of the 401 retailers surveyed in the county, 48 sold cigarettes to the underage decoys. This number, 16 percent, is down from 17 percent the year before, but almost triple the statewide average of 5.6 percent.
The rate of sales varied throughout the county, and sales increased this year in Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria.
The cities of Carpinteria, Solvang, Guadalupe and Goleta showed the most improvement. Sales in the county unincorporated areas also dropped slightly.
In order for the Public Health Department to record more consistent results, it limited the number of decoys serving in each region so it would be able to compare results from neighboring communities.
By looking at the results year after year, the department is hoping to better address youth access to tobacco products over time.
Several jurisdictions have taken action to limit sales of tobacco to minors.
In 2010, the county Board of Supervisors strengthened penalties for sales in unincorporated areas, and in Carpinteria this summer, the City Council enacted an ordinance stating that tobacco retailers must get licenses to sell tobacco.
The ordinance also banned new tobacco retail shops.