Almost a third of tobacco retailers in Maryland are selling cigarettes to minors, in violation of state and federal law, according to state health officials who conducted random inspections.
During the most recent set of inspections from May to September by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, about 32 percent of retailers sold to youth without asking for identification. That was up from about 24 percent in the year ending in September 2013, about the same as a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration assessment of Maryland retailers.
Retailers are required by federal law to check identification of those younger than 27. But a quarter of minors who smoke frequently, or more than 20 days a month, said they were usually able to buy cigarettes.
A recent federal report shows most smokers start before age 18, and millions of youth will ultimately die from smoking. In Maryland, there are an estimated 52,000 underage smokers.
State health officials are working with counties to increase enforcement and are recommending legislation to increase penalties for retailers, such as revoking licenses to sell tobacco, and requiring supplemental licenses for flavored tobacco products and electronic smoking devices to pay for greater enforcement.
A separate report from the state health department found tobacco use among public high school students in Maryland decreased by almost 40 percent from 2000 to 2013. But while cigarette use was down, smokeless tobacco increased during that time and cigar use didn't change much. Fruit and candy flavored cigars and smokeless tobacco are becoming more popular, the report said.