Nationally, the percentage of retailers refusing to sell cigarettes to minors was 71.2%. There remains a nine-point gap between this figure and the government's stated goal to achieve minimum eighty percent compliance over the next several years. Since 1999, the percentage of retailers likely to refuse a sale has moved forward only marginally, and by an amount that is within the statistical margin of error. Closing the nine-point gap means more significant gains have to be made, and at faster pace than has been the case recently.
To achieve the target, efforts need to be focused. Campaigns need to be directed at those pockets of the retail population and those circumstances preventing overall compliance from rising above current levels and short of the eighty percent objective. The data from the latest survey has helped isolate remaining segments with lower compliance: boys continue to have an easier time than girls buying cigarettes, as do older teens; youngest clerks are more likely than older ones to be willing to sell to minors; compliance is weaker in independent convenience stores and gas station outlets than in other channels; Quebec continues to report the lowest rate of provincial compliance, while individual cities like Halifax, Bathurst, Montreal and Quebec City report retailer compliance levels lower than others visited.
At the same time that the latest data isolates where the most work remains to be done, it shows that the underpinnings of the posted national rate of compliance continue to strengthen. The data has identified several circumstances, regions and retail segments in which the eighty percent goal has already been reached and even surpassed. Despite a national compliance figure that suggests progress has been slow, the fact is that there are more segments of strength than there are of remaining weakness in the battle to drive retailer sales compliance higher. In 2002, two-thirds of the cities we visited already reported compliance rates about or above eighty percent. So too did vendors in three of the five retail classes of trade we visited. More than four-fifths of retailers refused to sell when fifteen year olds were involved, and a higher percentage of retailers than ever refused a sale outright, even without asking for ID.
The challenge of the next few years is to hold successes like these while registering gains across those variables where refusal rates remain below target. More needs to be done to improve retailer sales-to-minors compliance in a handful of Canada's largest cities, in independent stores and gas outlets, and when older teens are attempting to buy. Regarding other aspects of the tobacco laws, including the posting of health warning and age restriction signs, the majority of retailers are complying at least in part, but we are no closer to full and proper compliance than we were in 2000.
The results of the current survey should serve as point of departure for interested parties to understand where and why compliance gaps continue to exist, to understand regional differences and to debate demonstrated best practices. From such review and dialogue must emerge the strategies to drive retailer compliance with the tobacco laws to the next level.