Twenty-five percent fail tobacco compliance check |

Twenty-five percent fail tobacco compliance check

SUMMIT COUNTY – Law enforcement officers fined 11 retail clerks $200 each for selling tobacco to minors during a compliance check last Thursday.

Bev Gmerek, Summit Prevention Alliance (SPA) community prevention coordinator, selected 44 stores to check last week. Of those, 25 percent failed by selling tobacco to 16- and 17-year-old teens.

“I think it’s people just not paying attention,” she said. “Five of them looked at the ID and still sold. And we just distributed tobacco education material the week before. It’s disappointing. I feel like I’m continually disappointed. People aren’t doing their job; they just ignored what was going on.”

Laurie Best, SPA’s tobacco prevention coordinator, said some people who sell tobacco to minors were sold tobacco when they were underage. Others, she said, can’t seem to do the math needed to determine how old a customer is – even with the aid of cash registers that figure it out for them.

Gmerek is disappointed because the 25 percent is almost twice the percentage who failed the last compliance check, in August.

But only one retailer that failed in August failed again last week, she said. And none of those that failed an alcohol compliance check March 20 failed the tobacco check.

Best said the failure rate is only somewhat disappointing.

“When I started here, it was 51 percent sale rates,” she said. “I have to be excited about the 75 percent who didn’t sell and keep working toward that. I look at 25 percent and say I’d like it to be zero, but I realize over half of the retailers sold (to minors) in 2001.”

She attributes that improvement to getting out and talking to tobacco retailers and emphasizing the importance of abiding by the law. In the past, retailers received a letter saying it was too bad their clerk failed a check – or, on the other hand, thanked them for refusing to sell tobacco to a minor.

Now, Best delivers certificates of thanks to retailers who comply, and their reaction to that has been positive, she said.

Clerks who fail the compliance check usually aren’t too excited about the citation and $200 fine law enforcement officials give them.

“That often costs them their job,” she said. “That gets them to the point they understand we’re serious, that this is an awful way to introduce kids to something they might fight for rest of their lives. We just keep working. It identifies where we need to further educate retailers, but I’m not easily discouraged.”

Gmerek said clerks need to pay more attention – or face the consequences.

“They deserve what they got,” she said. “I don’t feel sorry for them at all.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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