Some Oklahoma tobacco retailers are increasingly failing to meet legal requirements regarding underage tobacco sales; however, Ardmore officials have been ensuring products stay out of the hands of youth.
In July 1992, Congress enacted the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act, which includes an amendment requiring states to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18, according to a press release from the Wichita Mountains Prevention Network.
States are therefore required to maintain a compliance rate of at least 80 percent, or a non-compliance rate of no more than 20 percent. Unannounced compliance checks are administered annually in communities throughout Oklahoma, according to the release.
Oklahoma remains at a non-compliance rate of 17.9 percent as of 2018.
According to data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the state was in compliance with the law at 48.3 percent in 1997. But in 2012, Oklahoma saw its lowest drop of 6.8 percent.
“In 2012 the non-compliance rate was only 6.8 percent, the lowest ever recorded in Oklahoma, however that rate has steadily increased ever since,” Chelsey Stevenson, prevention specialist, said. “While the majority of retailers are complying with the law, there are some in our community choosing to ignore it and in turn risking the health of our children. That is unacceptable.”
Some believe this data is a reflection of a product that entered the market around 2007 and began exposing a generation of young people to nicotine in a new way.
E-cigarettes, or vapes, became the most commonly used tobacco product among United States youth in 2014 and in 2018, more than 3.6 million youth said they currently used e-cigs, according to the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service Jerome Adam’s Advisory on E-cigarette use.
According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco survey, this number was an “alarming” 78 percent increase from 2017 to 2018.
Although strides were previously made to keep cigarettes off of school properties, vaping products weren’t regulated until Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 33 into law on April 15, 2019. The bill expanded the Tobacco-Free Schools Act to include any vaping product whether or not the device contains nicotine.
This fairly new legislation is what Ardmore City Public Schools superintendent Kim Holland said has helped regulate tobacco product usage among Ardmore’s high school and middle school students.
“We’ve seen some of it but we cracked down on it pretty quickly,” Holland said. “The state legislature treats it the same way they do cigarettes or any other kind of tobacco.”
Holland said the school system hasn’t had any problems with middle school students bringing e-cigs to school, but there has been a handful of high school students who have gotten into trouble for using the product.
“I truly believe that some of the parents believe that they’re not illegal,” Holland said. “Their kids bring it to school and it becomes my problem. So it’s been an educational piece on our part to try to teach parents that these things are illegal.”
In the past, Ardmore City Schools have been honored by the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust for efforts to promote the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff. In May 2015, the school system received a $10,000 grant as part of TSET’s Healthy School District Incentive Grant, which helped the system work towards approving a district-wide 24/7 tobacco-free policy.
And while state compliance percentages remain low, Ardmore Police Department Captain Keith Ingle said the city of Ardmore has had more of an issue with alcohol retailers not complying with legal requirements regarding underage sales than with tobacco retailers.
“On the tobacco, we have not had any reports of it, now, we did do some alcohol compliance checks not too long ago where several stores were not in compliance with sanctions,” Ingle said. “It’s funny because our stores are better at checking IDs for tobacco than they are alcohol.”