Despite millions spent on anti-smoking campaigns tobacco sales to minors are at the highest levels in years. The Washington State Department of Health reported this week the number of Washington merchants selling tobacco to minors has risen since 2010.

According to WSDH data, 16 percent of stores have illegally sold tobacco products to people under age 18 (up from 10 percent in 2010). Why?

  • WSDH says increasing turnover makes it difficult for store employees to be properly trained.
  • State budget cuts have impacted education and prevention programs throughout the state and reduced the number of workers who can monitor illegal sales.
  • WSDH claims the tobacco industry has spent increasing amounts of money marketing the product at young people. The most recent figures show about $80 million was spent in Washington alone in 2010.

Penalties exist for clerks and retailers who sell to minors -- the clerk can be fined up to $100 by the state and a retailer up to $1,500. Repeated violations by a business can result in their tobacco license being revoked.

It's interesting to note that while the under-age smoking rate in Washington has dropped (among teenagers) to 13 percent compared with 26 percent 10 years ago, the use of other tobacco products such as cigars, chewing tobacco and hookahs has risen significantly.