County students target illegal tobacco sales

When 15-year-old Vivian Yung walks into a convenience store and asks for a pack of cigarettes, there is little chance the clerk has mistaken her for someone old enough to legally purchase tobacco, according to those who know her.

Yet, there she is, time and again coming out of the automatic glass doors with a pack of Marlboros in her hand.

“When I went to do my buys, few of them asked me for my ID,” Yung told The Examiner on Wednesday.

It is Yung’s “test buys” in recent weeks, along with those of other local students working to raise tobacco awareness, that reveal a surprising willingness among merchants to sell tobacco to minors, according to a report to be released today.

“On average, one in four stores sell tobacco to those under 18,” said Amanda Cue, co-chair of the county Tobacco Education Coalition. Cue, also the director of prevention with Yung’s group, Youth Organizing San Mateo, has been leading youth efforts in the county to raise the awareness of elected officials to the severity of the problem.

The one-in-four sales rate in parts of San Mateo County is nearly double the state’s 13 percent, said Eddie Hu, a 16-year-old junior at San Mateo High School and member of Youth Organizing San Mateo.

“We want to target this toward merchants so that they understand what they are doing is hurting youth,” Hu said.

Getting the word out can be frustrating work when you consider the rate of sales to minors, which has basically held steady in recent years, especially in light of the fact that the legal age to buy tobacco has been 18 for a century, Hu said.

Similar to the 25 percent rate Yung’s group found while conducting buys in San Mateo in recent days, including Wednesday, test buys at convenience and grocery stores in Daly City in October revealed that 10 out of 38 stores, or 26 percent, sold tobacco to kids under 18. Operations in San Mateo last summer found a comparable rate of 23 percent, Cue said.

Youth Organizing plans to present its findings to officials and police in San Mateo, Daly City and Pacifica, in hopes they’ll consider taking action early next year.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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