Wicomico Partnership Targets Youth Cigarette Sales

SALISBURY – In an effort to lower the State of Maryland’s retailer violation rate when it comes to minors purchasing tobacco products, the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office and the Health Department will partner to step up enforcement.

A resolution authorizing County Executive Bob Culver to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for reimbursement costs associated with the Tobacco Enforcement Youth Initiative Project not to exceed $8,000 came before the Wicomico County Council for approval on Tuesday morning.

According to the resolution, the Wicomico County Health Department desires to partner with the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office on a Tobacco Enforcement Youth Initiative Project that include enforcement of underage tobacco sales, illegal possession of tobacco products and community education on tobacco laws.

“The Sheriff’s Office has a long standing relationship with the Health Department. Currently, we have a MOU in place for compliance checks and education. This MOU continues that and increases that. It also is asking for the Sheriff’s Office to go out to retailers with an individual under the age of 18 who will attempt to purchase cigarettes. If they do we will continue the education, and also issue a citation,” said Sheriff’s Office Lt. Richard Wierdberg, who is the contract monitor.

According to Wierdberg, the initiative same forward when the rate of failure of minors buying cigarettes increased to over 20 percent between 2012 and 2013, and between May to September in 2014 the failure rate increased to over 30 percent.

“To be honest with you in discussion with the Health Department, over the past several years we [Wicomico County] have actually seen a decrease in violations, so this was a surprise to us. While the State has seen an increase, we have seen a decrease,” Wierdberg said.

According to the MOU on the table, the State of Maryland has received special funds through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Synar Program that requires states to establish and enforce a state law that prohibits tobacco products from being sold or distributed to individuals under 18 years of age, and for local law enforcement to conduct annual random and unannounced compliance checks that provide a valid probability sample of outlets accessible to minors. The State must maintain a retailer violation rate of less than 20 percent, and if that rate is not achieved, the State risks forfeiture of 40 percent of SAPT funds.

It is further agreed that the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office will achieve or exceed 50 compliance checks using youth under the age of 18 years old, 75 visits to retailers for face-to-face vendor education and issue five youth tobacco citations.

The MOU concludes, “the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office will pay overtime for deputies participating in the Tobacco Enforcement Youth Initiative and invoice the Wicomico County Health Department on a quarterly basis for the cost of overtime and for any other costs associated with this project, such as products purchased during compliance checks. The total amount of dollars spent from the date of the agreement until June 30, 2015 cannot exceed $8,000.”

The County Council voted unanimously to approve the resolution.