Oct 052011

By Linda Kor —

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said last week that rural Arizona counties have a problem with underage smokers being sold tobacco by retail store employees.

During a Sept. 28 press conference, Horne stated that illegal sales are a more significant problem in rural areas than urban ones. This was in reference to a statewide inspection of retail tobacco outlets conducted in fiscal year 2011 that found that, on average, employees are selling to minors nearly 15 percent of the time. But in Navajo County and other rural areas in the state tobacco is being sold to minors 25 percent of the time.

A review of the actual study shows that inspectors went to various retail tobacco outlets in Arizona in which volunteers under the age of 18 were asked to purchase tobacco. Of the 2,000 visits that took place throughout the state, there were seven incidents in Navajo County when tobacco was sold to minors. Those incidents took place at four different locations in Show Low and one in Lakeside on March 12 and Sept. 9. In Apache County, only three stores were visited, one in St. Johns and two in Springerville, in which minors were sold tobacco on March 12.

When asked how figures such as these constitute an outcome of 25 percent countywide for either county, Amy Rezzonico, press secretary for Horne’s office, stated that she stood by the statistics in the report.

“I don’t think we’re being harsh on rural counties. Our goal is for the whole state to not sell to minors,” she said.

When asked if making a countywide assumption on the basis of seven incidents in two communities, or in the case of Apache County, three incidents in two communities, wasn’t somewhat biased, Rezzonico replied, “If I went to 18 stores in Maricopa and six violated, then five stores in Navajo and five violated, then I think that shows a greater risk. The bigger issue is that retailers are selling to even one minor,” she stated. What the study did not show was what stores did not sell to minors or their locations.

The office also unveiled a new public service announcement that warns tobacco retailers of the punishment of selling to minors, a $300 fine personally issued to employees.