The average "buy rate" for tobacco in Davis County by undercover minors increased to 18.5 percent during the past fiscal year, up 11 percent from 1996-97.
The county's not sure why the buy rate is up this time."It may have been there are more stores, or higher employee turnover," compliance program director Isa Kaluhikaua, a health educator for Davis County, said.
Kaluhikaua hopes the county's continuing retailer education program, plus adding Food and Drug Administration support and funds to the program later this year, will lower the buy rate for tobacco. She also believes the FDA addition will put more teeth into the program.
She said clerks who fail the stings have been subject to a $200-$400 fine in the past. Now, that deterrent will continue, plus store owners will face a possible strict penalty, too.
"Owners haven't had a lot of incentive to change in the past," she said.
Fruit Heights is the toughest city in Davis County for minors to buy tobacco products in, while the easiest is South Weber, according to the results of the continuing undercover sting by the Davis County Board of Health.
Statistics released from the Davis County Health Department's Tobacco Compliance Program during the 1997-98 fiscal year show South Weber's lone store failed two of three sting attempts. In contrast, the single outlet in Fruit Heights failed to sell tobacco to a minor in three attempts.
Kaluhikaua also stressed that even though South Weber had the worst rate this time around, it boasted the best rate in the previous year's program. In addition, she said with only one store that sells tobacco in South Weber, the town may not be accurately classed with cities like Layton or Clearfield - where more than a dozen outlets sell tobacco.
Among the county's five largest cities in the program, Kaysville is the toughest city for minors to purchase tobacco in, followed by Clearfield, Layton and Centerville.
During 1996-97, Sunset and Layton had the second-best records with a 5 percent buy-rate. North Salt Lake was last at 33 percent.
Bountiful, the county's second-largest municipality, has chosen not to participate in the program.
"For one reason or another, they won't participate," Kaluhikaua said. "It scares us as to what might be happening there."
Bountiful Police Chief Paul Rapp said he's a well-known critic of the county's current tobacco compliance program.
"It's a matter of cost and expenditure," he said, explaining the county wants cities to pay for 75 percent of the testing done.
With some 20 stores to test in Bountiful, he said allocating money for it doesn't rank in his top 10 priorities - especially because the county program doesn't have enough teeth in it to make a difference. He said alcohol stings are a much higher priority to him from a safety standpoint with teens driving drunk.
"We need laws we can enforce, that hold up in courts," he said.
Rapp said if the county program included more funding and stricter penalities, he would reconsider. He said the city used to belong to the program.
On a positive note, eight stores in the county were honored this month for having perfect test records for at least five years. Kaluhikaua said some additional stores have also surpassed the four-year mark for perfect performance.
"The good stores are good," she said.
The tobacco testing program is operated in conjunction with local police departments. It recruits teens, ages 16-18. These teens dress normally, and once every three months, they attempt to purchase tobacco products at a store.
"They can't lie or coerce," Kaluhikaua said. "There's no entrapment. They're just there testing to see if the clerk asks for ID."
The county also has a very limited alcohol compliance program that involves only six cities. Kaluhikaua said those six are the cities that asked for county help.
"The cities we don't help, do it (testing) on their own," she said.
That testing program uses young adults, ages 18-20.
Davis County tobacco compliance testing for minors, 1997-98
% sting test
City # stores failure rate
Fruit Heights 1 0
Sunset 4 6
Woods Cross 5 10
North Salt Lake 6 13
West Bountiful 3 13
Centerville 7 15
Layton 28 19
Clearfield 17 20
Kaysville 6 27
Clinton 1 33
Syracuse 2 40
South Weber 1 67
Note: Bountiful does not participate in the testing program.