Wyoming tobacco retailers are not complying with state law prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors at a rate nearly three times as high as a year ago, according to a new report.

The 2017 Synar Report draft puts noncompliance among Wyoming retailers at 12 percent, says Wyoming Department of Health Block Grant Coordinator Rachel Nuss.

That's a sharp increase from a 4.2 percent rate highlighted in last year's report, but still well below the national target rate of 20 percent or less.

"We're not really sure why we've seen this increase," Nuss says. "But it's something that we will investigate."

The U.S. Congress in 1992 enacted legislation including the Synar Amendment, which aims to decrease youth access to tobacco products. The amendment requires all states to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to minors.

"Wyoming is required to conduct random, unannounced inspections of tobacco outlets such as convenience stores that youth can legally visit," Nuss says in a department press release. "These inspections help us see how well tobacco retailers follow state law, which says tobacco products may not be sold to minors."

So, once each year, inspections are coordinated by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center in partnership with the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.

The typical inspection involves a 16- or 17-year-old walking into a convenience store or other retailer where tobacco products are sold and requesting a certain brand of cigarette, or smokeless tobacco on every third inspection.

"It would be a noncompliance if the youth could have bought the tobacco product," Nuss says. "If they didn't check IDs or if the purchase actually went through."

"Of course, the youth don't actually buy the tobacco products. They are instructed specifically just to walk away from the sale," Nuss adds.

Teens participate at their own behest, with parental permission and after being trained by adult supervisors.

Citations are not issued as a result of these unannounced, anonymous inspections required by the Synar Amendment.

"Really it's just a check on us to make sure our retailers are following [the law]," Nuss says. "They don't even know most of the time that we have been there."

This year's report shows local law enforcement issued 69 citations for violations of state law prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors. The report does not indicate how many of those citations were given to clerks and how many were given to owners.

The Wyoming Department of Health is seeking public comment on the 2017 Annual Synar Report draft for Wyoming. It's available online for review and comment.

Written comments must be filed no later than 5 p.m. Dec. 15. Comments may be emailed to Rachel.nuss1@wyo.gov.