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(Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki / Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Baltimore wants to use 311 to stop underage smoking

City officials want to crack down on tobacco sales to minors, and are asking for Baltimore residents to be on the lookout.

Anyone who notices a business selling tobacco products to people under 18 can now call 311 to report it; the city’s health department will investigate each incident, officials announced Friday.

“Our citizens are already very familiar with using 311 to let city officials know about many issues, so this is a natural extension,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.  “We need everyone’s help to protect our children from a lifelong addiction to tobacco.”

State law requires anyone under 27 who wants to purchase tobacco products to show identification, but recent data indicates that nearly 37 percent of underage youth that tried to buy tobacco in city were able to do so.

More than 1,600 Baltimore City stores are licensed to sell tobacco, and those who sell to minors face a fine of $500 for a first offense. In Baltimore, 17 percent of high school students and 12 percent of middle school students reported using tobacco products for the first time last year, according to the city’s health department.

“Nine out of 10 smokers start before the age of 18 and thousands of these individuals will die every year from tobacco-related diseases,” Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, said in a statement. “Stores that are selling tobacco to our youth is not only a legal issue, but one that will cost people their lives.”

The 311 initiative will be accompanied by a public-education campaign that includes advertisements on buses and radio announcements, according to the health department.

 

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