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City officials want residents to report stores selling tobacco to minors

In an effort to curb underage tobacco use, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the city health commissioner and other officials plan to announce Friday that residents can now report stores selling cigarettes and other products to minors by calling 311.

The city health department will investigate the complaints, and if substantiated the retailers could face fines of $500 for a first offense, said officials ahead of the announcement at the Ashburton Mini Mart.

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The new initiative is part of a larger educational campaign and effort to cut down on the number of minors using tobacco, considered a major public health problem.

The city has more than 1,600 retailers licensed to sell tobacco, more than any county in the state.

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City officials have been focusing on tobacco use, as 17 percent of high schoolers and 12 percent of middle schoolers reported using tobacco products for the first time last year. Surveys show city youth try smoking at an earlier age than kids around the state.

Nationally, more than 2,800 minors try a cigarette for the first time each day, officials said, and unless the use rates decline, 5.6 million kids alive today will ultimately die from tobacco related diseases.

"Nine out of 10 smokers start before the age of 18, and thousands of these individuals will die every year from tobacco-related diseases," said Dr. Leana Wen, city health commissioner, in a statement. "Stores that are selling tobacco to our youth is not only a legal issue, but one that will cost people their lives."

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