FARMINGTON — Retailers in Davis County made it easier for minors to illegally buy tobacco and alcohol last year than they did in 1998-99, according to statistics compiled by the Davis County Health Department.

And this year was the first time the county has imposed a yearlong suspension on a retailer's license to sell tobacco.

The health department this week released the results of 292 attempts by underage buyers to purchase tobacco and 108 attempts to buy alcohol as part of a sting operation. The stings took place from July 1999 to July 2000 and involved a supervised minor, a local law enforcement official and a member of the health department.

Of the attempts by minors to illegally purchase tobacco products, 16 percent were successful, compared with a 13.5 percent buy rate in 1998-1999.

The number of illegal alcohol sales also jumped. Last year, 23 percent of attempts resulted in a sale, and this year it went up to 27 percent.

"I'm very worried about the increase in alcohol sales . . . it seems we can't get those (percentages) lower than the low 20s. With tobacco, we've taken it as low as 11 percent, maybe 9 percent," Isa Kaluhikaua of the health department said. "That's showing that minors can pretty much get alcohol whenever they want, wherever they want. They just find out which stores are selling it to minors."

The cities with the highest percentages of illegal tobacco sales were Farmington, with 33 percent, North Salt Lake with 28 percent and Layton with 22 percent. Those with the highest rates of illegal alcohol sales were Clearfield with 38 percent, West Bountiful with 31 percent and Kaysville with 21 percent.

Several stores in the county that were checked at least three times and went the year without any infractions will be rewarded with certificates.

Flying J of Layton was repeatedly cited for illegal sale of tobacco, Kaluhikaua said. After three infractions, the convenience store lost its license to sell tobacco for 30 days. When another illegal sale was made after that suspension, the health department turned it over to the Utah Tax Commission, which suspended the store's tobacco sales license for a year.

"Flying J said that it would cost them tens of thousands of dollars (to not sell tobacco)," Kaluhikaua said. "I think these guys could be an example for the whole state."

Because penalties for illegal alcohol sales are not uniform statewide, Kaluhikaua says she hopes Davis cities will pass ordinances with stricter punishments for repeat offenders.