Malibu teen tobacco use higher than other cities

A chalk outline depicts a body in which statistics about smoking were written by Malibu High school students last week on campus in an effort to encourage young people not to smoke. Stephanie Chaisson / TMT

Survey shows that the rate of sales and attempted sales of tobacco to minors in Malibu is five times higher than the statewide 7.7 percent.

By Paul Sisolak / Special to The Malibu Times

An anti-smoking event put on last week by local high school students was part of a larger campaign to eradicate tobacco use among teens in Malibu, which remains higher than in neighboring cities, according to a county-sponsored public health survey.

Results of the 2011 Malibu Tobacco Youth Purchase Survey, released three weeks ago, indicate that out of 16 local retailers, more than 37 percent were willing to sell tobacco products to underage teens 15 to 17, who entered stores to buy cigarettes. The survey, which followed the Los Angeles County Public Health Department’s “attempted buy” protocol, took place last month.

“It’s really a big problem in Malibu,” said Debra Levi, a tobacco-prevention program director for the Valley Community Clinic in North Hollywood.

Levi, who helped lead a campus-wide effort on Thursday at Malibu High School for the national anti-tobacco “Kick Butts Day,” said that while the survey was strictly for data collection, and not to set up or single out convenience stores, it proves what many residents and parents may not know-that the rate of sales and attempted sales of tobacco to minors in Malibu, according to the survey, is five times higher than the statewide 7.7 percent.

Malibu High School students gathered Thursday morning last week, under the acronym of AKT (Alliance to Keep Kids Tobacco-Free) to protest cigarette smoking, drawing chalk outlines of their bodies on the ground throughout the school, filled in with statistics about the harmful effects of tobacco on a person’s body. Students also wrote their thoughts about Big Tobacco on a graffiti wall specially created for the event, pledging not to start smoking.

Part of the campaign’s overarching goal, Levi said, is an attempt to adopt tobacco retailer licensing in Malibu. It would require stores that sell tobacco to obtain licenses and pay annual fees, which would then go toward paying for stricter enforcement programming.

The Valley Community Clinic provided results of another survey taken between June and December of last year of 557 Malibu residents; more than 62 percent supported adopting a retail licensing ordinance. Eighty-nine percent of those residents, it states, believe that vendors who sell cigarettes to Malibu minors should be put out of business altogether.

Data from the American Lung Association (ALA) shows that the San Fernando Valley, since enacting retailer fees in 2008, dropped its tobacco sale rate to minors from 38 percent to 3 percent. Calabasas remains the shining example in Los Angeles County, with tough anti-smoking ordinances and consistent “A” grades from the ALA.

“It’s proven to work, that it reduces access to tobacco amongst youth because it holds retailers accountable,” Levi said.

For now, the Valley Community Clinic continues to work with Malibu High School-especially its “Clinics and Causes” activity group-and the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

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