Just how easy it is for underage youth to buy tobacco?

A man smokes an electronic cigarette. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

WASHINGTON — Just how easy it is for underage youth to buy tobacco?

The answer, in part, depends on location.

A new report by the Synar Program shows 9.6 percent of inspected retail outlets illegally sold tobacco in 2013.

In this area, the illegal sales in D.C. fell just below the national average (8.6 percent), while Maryland (almost 17 percent) and Virginia (13.5 percent) were above it.

Nationally, the report shows a leveling-off of illegal tobacco sales.

“While falling sharply during the first decade of the Synar Program, the average rate of sales to youth has remained fairly consistent at around 10 percent for the past seven years,” says Susan Marsiglia Gray, a senior public health adviser at the program.

“The bad news, however, is that this is the second year in a row where the national rate has slightly increased from the year before,” she says.

States’ enforcement and compliance efforts vary. Some track cigarette sales only. Others include cigars and smokeless tobacco. E-cigarettes are poised to become another option in the future.

States that track multiple forms of tobacco report that retailers are more likely to sell underage youth tobacco alternatives than cigarettes themselves.

Marsiglia Gray says several states could be in a position to consider e-cigarettes in future surveys, which could boost the illegal sales figures.

Still, she notes a dramatic change in the 17 years of the Synar Program.

“When this program first began in 1997, the national rate of tobacco sales to minors was just over 40 percent,” she says.

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