Rise in youth smoking could cost Wash. state money

TUMWATER, Wash. -- Officials from the state health department, the liquor control board and the Thurston County sheriff's office met on Wednesday to tackle the problem of children using tobacco.

State and local health officials are concerned, and not only for the health risks associated with smoking, but with the financial penalties at stake in the issue.

According to the state, the sale of tobacco to minors is at 10-year high. Currently, 13 percent of Washington State minors smoke cigarettes.

It's a battle Secretary of Heath Mary Selecky continues to fight.

"They're selling tobacco to kids who are underage age 18, and its against the law," Selecky said.

Over the last few years, the state says between 12 and 15 percent of tobacco retailers haven't been doing adequate identification checks.

Even though federal law states businesses must ask to see ID from anyone who appears younger than 27-years old, statistics show that isn't happening.

Officials say the problem rests mainly with mom-and-pop stores across the state. Retailers are under pressure to sell, and Selecky said it could be a sign of the economic times.

"All the state funding for the kinds of programs we've had reaching out to youth or going in and doing retailer education has been reduced or is gone," she said.

Obvious health dangers aside, if non compliance reaches 20 percent, the state could lose federal funding for drug and alcohol programs.

Because cigarettes are so expensive, health officials suggest parents pay attention to just how much money their children are spending.