After an all-time record low violation rate in the sale of tobacco products to minors in 2017, sales of these products to underage customers increased the past two years.
Still, the 2019 “violation rate” by 220 stores surveyed in five islands around the nation was low compared to the first seven years the so-called Synar Survey was conducted in the RMI.
The survey completed at the end of 2019 showed a 14 percent violation rate by the 220 stores — which means that nearly nine out of 10 stores are following the law. Ebeye and Arno had the best compliance record, with none of the stores on those two islands having any violations. Majuro had the highest level of violation with 25 stores out of 140 total surveyed selling cigarettes or chewing tobacco to minors. On Wotje, two of 12 stores violated the law, while on Jaluit only one of 19 stores violated the law against selling tobacco to anyone under 18.
Every year since 2008, Marshall Islands Epidemiology and Prevention Initiatives (MIEPI) has overseen the Synar survey, which is named after an American Congressman who championed laws banning sales of tobacco products to children. In 1992, Congress enacted the Synar Amendment, requiring states and territories to enact a law prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors and to enforce that law in a manner that could reasonably be expected to decrease the availability of tobacco to minors.
When the RMI started implementing the Synar survey in 2008, nearly all stores illegally sold tobacco to minors. The enforcement side followed outreach to dozens of local businesses in Majuro, Ebeye and the outer islands explaining the law and posting signs at businesses confirming age requirements for purchase of tobacco.
With the combination of business education and the survey, which is done in the form of a “sting” type operation with a teenager attempting to purchase tobacco from local stores, the violation rate dropped dramatically. By 2011, the violation rate had declined to 33 percent. It kept dropping as more stores complied with the law, hitting five percent in 2017. This 95 percent compliance set a record for the Synar program since its inception in 2008.
It increased the past two years, to 10.4 percent in 2018 and 14 percent last year. But the violation rate is still below the program’s goal of a 20 percent violation level.
A 2019 report from MIEPI shows that nationally, 192 out of 220 stores surveyed obeyed the law against sales to minors. The survey included Majuro, Ebeye, Jaluit, Wotje and Arno.
The vast majority of the 28 violations were in Majuro, with 25 of 140 violating the law. Two stores in Wotje and one in Jaluit also violated the law.
The MIEPI report shows that the majority — 16 — of the stores violating the law were in the Small Island to Rairok area. Seven stores from Rita to Uliga violated the law, while only two from the airport to Laura were not in compliance.