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Panel tackles ways to halt youth smoking

October 18, 2000

Panel tackles ways to halt youth smoking



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


Officials given the task of determining how to curb underage smoking in Washington County discussed methods of sanctioning retailers and youths who violate anti-smoking laws.

Representatives from Hagerstown City Police Department, the American Lung Association, Washington County Health Department and other organizations gathered at the health department for the meeting Wednesday.

Lt. John Moulton of Hagerstown City Police told the committee that officers regularly make undercover cigarette buys to find out which retailers are selling to minors.

Moulton said a first-time offender will receive a warning, but if it happens a second time they are fined.

"We don't want to shut anybody down or issue citations. We want this to be a cooperative effort," said Moulton.

In November 1998, the nation's largest tobacco companies agreed to pay $206 billion in restitution to 46 states over 25 years and finance anti-smoking programs in exchange for resolving remaining state health-care claims for smokers.

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Maryland Gov. Parris Glendenning announced in February plans to spend $1 billion in tobacco settlement restitution on anti-cancer and anti-smoking initiatives.

Washington County is due to receive around $400,000 a year in cigarette restitution, according to Nell Stewart, who runs the health department's "Stop Smoking for Life," program.

Moulton said enforcement efforts have to include fining youths as well as retailers in order to create a climate in Washington County that juvenile smoking will not be tolerated.

"We're sending the wrong message if we target retailers and not kids. They are both committing a crime," said Lynn Whitall, Western Maryland regional director of the American Lung Association.

Moulton recommended there should be a tiered list of penalties leading up to a court appearance in order to prevent courts from being overtaxed.

"There should be a lot of hoops for them to jump through before they get to court," said Moulton.

He said he hopes that parents and non-smoking teens will call police and report retailers that they know are selling cigarettes to minors.

"There are retailers trying to comply," said Carol Norton, retail operations manager for AC&T stores.

She told the group that her organization fires employees caught selling to minors. If a store has repeat violations its manager will also face disciplinary action, she said.

"We don't see any other means of enforcing it other than being very hard-core about it," she said.

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