By Pat Warren

BALTIMORE (WJZ)– The County is cracking down on sale of cigarettes to minors.

Pat Warren reports, most retailers are now complying with law.

It’s happening in the County, in the City and across the nation, as tobacco manufacturers pitch to teenage smoking, triggering a national public health issue.

Tuesday, Baltimore County announced the results of a crackdown on retail tobacco sales to minors, from 55 percent noncompliance in 2015 to 1 percent in 2017.

Health officials say they were able to do this by sending minors to buy cigarettes as part of an enforcement operation.

“Every time I see a young person with tobacco I am disheartened. First of all we know it is illegal but it is also a first step to a lifetime of disease and illness,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, at the current rate of smoking among those under 18, 5.6 million will die early from a smoking-related disease. That’s about 1 in every 13, 17-year-olds or younger alive today.

“In Maryland alone, the health care costs due to smoking totals $2.7 billion and there were 7,490 deaths due to smoking,” said Laura Hale of the American Lung Association.

The same focus led Baltimore City to crack down on the illegal sales of tobacco to minors two years ago, where health officials say 17 percent of high schoolers and 12 percent of middle schoolers reported using tobacco.

Part of Baltimore County’s announcement was to thank a 7-11 owner for his compliance.

“Thank you for what you’re doing to save lives,” Kamenetz said.

You have to be 18 or older to smoke in Maryland, but retailers have to check the ID’s of everyone under age 27.

In 2014, lawmakers considered changing the legal smoking age to 21, but the bill failed.

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