All Nashua stores pass compliance check for underage cigarette sales in 2013

A one-year drop in tobacco sales to minors has state officials encouraged that they are making progress in cutting youth smoking and pledging to do more.

Based on a compliance check of 312 convenience stores, pharmacies and gas stations from around the state in 2013, 11.2 percent of stores failed to comply and sold tobacco to minors, a 2 percent drop compared to the previous year.

Throughout the state, though, that average didn’t hold true in all cities and towns, as three of four locations in Pelham – or 75 percent – failed to comply and sold cigarettes to minors, while all 19 convenience stores surveyed in Nashua passed their compliance check.

Among the local locations that did not pass their compliance checks were CVS Pharmacy, 77 Derry Road, Hudson; EZ Stop, 715 Daniel Webster Highway, Merrimack; Z1 Xpress, 1 Peach Tree Lane, Merrimack; and
Penguin Mart, 738 Elm St., Milford.

Stores that flunk the compliance check get a warning or a citation requiring employees to attend a training seminar.

Attempts to reach management or ownership for CVS Pharmacy, Z1 Express, and EZ Stop for comment were unsuccessful.

A part-owner of Penguin Mart LLC in Milford apologized for the infraction and said that’s not how his store does business.

Of the 312 stores surveyed by the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Division of Liquor Enforcement, 89 were in Hillsborough County.

Of those, 11 failed and allowed a teenager to purchase tobacco, which was generally on par with the rest of the state.

Including the 19 stores in Nashua surveyed, five stores each in Merrimack and Milford; four each in Goffstown, Hudson and Londonderry; two each in Bedford, Hollis and Windham; and one in Amherst were part of last year’s compliance check.

Funding to coordinate the survey, according to the state’s Administrative Lieutenant of Department of Liquor Enforcement and Licensing Valerie Smith, came by way of the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant amounting to $50,000.

Public health Director Dr. Jose Montero took the statistics to mean that progress is being made in the
ever-challenging goal of seeking to obliterate underage smoking in the state.

“We want to believe that this is a trend, that education and more awareness is kicking in,” Montero said.

Whether it is a trend is up for debate, though, as the state report filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for 2012 shows that the rate was at 13.2 percent non-compliance, but that for state reports from two previous years, the rate of non-compliance of selling tobacco to minors was much lower: 7.8 percent in 2011 and 8.6 percent in 2010.

While the numbers of non-
compliance in the state might not be at the levels from 2010 and 2011, they are still significantly far from the 20 percent mark that would kick in federal penalties, or even the state’s recent high water-mark of 14.0 percent non-compliance in 2009.

Even with the drop in non-compliant sales to minors in the state between the 2012 and 2013 reports, Montero acknowledged that additional work needs to be done to shrink the number of under-18 smokers in the state, which remains steady at around 18 percent, based on other state surveys.

“We want stores to be responsible for their part, and to check the age for the products they sell,” Montero said.

Andres Caamano can be reached at 594-6402.