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Garfield County Program Works to Prevent Underage Tobacco Use.

– The TSET Healthy Living Program in Garfield County is working with the community partners to conduct tobacco retailer education visits soon at local stores in a strategic effort to keep more underage persons from ever starting tobacco use.

Stephanie Pendergraft, the lead coordinator of the TSET HLP in Garfield County, said the program is working to reduce youth access to tobacco in response to feedback from recent community wellness surveys and listening sessions.

“Vaping and tobacco use that leads to nicotine addiction often starts in adolescence and the teen years,” Stephanie Pendergraft said. “So local residents are right to be concerned about youth access to tobacco, and that’s why we will conduct these retail education visits.”

The local TSET HLP will work with youth volunteers to conduct the store visits during regular business hours. When a visit takes place, an underage person will enter a store and ask to buy a tobacco product but with no intent to purchase it. Tobacco sales are prohibited by federal and state laws to anyone under the age of 21.

The visits are not meant to entrap local retailers, but rather to raise awareness of laws that prohibit tobacco and vape sales to underage persons. Clerks who are willing to complete a would-be sale will be reminded of the law, while those who refuse to sell will be acknowledged and thanked.

“Retailers who consistently ask for ID and refuse to sell tobacco and vape products are local heroes because they are doing their part to protect young people from the addiction and serious health risks that often come from vaping and tobacco use,” Stephanie said. “We and many people in our community appreciate their efforts.”

State officials and local law enforcement can fine retailers who sell tobacco and vape products to underage customers. Persons under 21 years of age who purchase, use or possess these products can no longer be fined under new legislation signed into law in May 2022, but they will have to take a course on tobacco addiction through the Oklahoma ABLE Commission.

Nearly nine in 10 smokers in the U.S. tried their first cigarette before age 18, according to the CDC. Here in Oklahoma, 9.1 percent of high school students smoke, and three times that number – 27.8 percent – are vaping.

Preventing youth access to tobacco is just one of several strategies that the TSET HLP and community partners are working on to improve the health and wellness of Garfield residents. Other areas of focus include planning and implementing active transportation infrastructure, building smarter lunchroom policies, and encouraging food retailers to increase the availability of healthy choices.

To learn more about the TSET Healthy Living Program and its community-based work and objectives, call 580-213-3172 or contact Stephanie Pendergraft at sapendergraft@nwosu.edu