Advertisement

Hagerstown police target businesses selling tobacco to minors

May 20, 2002|BY MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

The first time "Lee" tried to buy cigarettes, the 17-year-old admitted she felt very nervous and looked very nervous.

So it was a shock when the store sold her the product without asking for proof of her age.

Lee and her friends "Judith" and "Marie" (not their real names) are working with Sgt. Fred Wolford of the Hagerstown City Police to identify businesses that are illegally selling tobacco to minors.

So far, the results have been discouraging, Wolford said.

"We've visited 57 locations - 34 failed and 23 complied," Wolford said. "All have gotten their letters."

The girls helped Wolford write the letters, praising the stores that complied and warning those that didn't.

"We haven't starting charging people yet, but we will be soon," Wolford said.

Enforcement is already under way in Frederick County, Md., where on May 10, Frederick City Police cited five businesses for selling tobacco to minors while 14 others were found to be in compliance.

Advertisement

The fine in Maryland is up to $300 for the first offense, $1,000 for a second offense and $3,000 for a third offense within a two-year period.

Marie said she was more often able to successfully buy tobacco products from younger and older clerks. The middle-age clerks tended to be more suspicious and asked for proof of age.

"Only one place actually carded me for tobacco," Marie said.

Lee, who admitted she is the youngest-looking of the three high school students, said she was amazed she could actually get tobacco products.

The main target items were cigarettes, rolling papers and a brand of cigars called blunts that are often scooped out and used to smoke marijuana, Wolford said.

All three girls said it was easy to ask for and get rolling papers, another item used to smoke illegal drugs such as marijuana.

In some stores, such items are kept behind the counter and out of sight. But in other locations, they are away from the counter and must be picked up by the customer and brought to the clerk.

"In those cases, the success rate was high," Wolford said, meaning the girls were able to purchase the items.

The girls said liquor stores are very likely to sell tobacco, especially if a girl goes in alone. And they also agreed that gas stations that sell tobacco products were the most likely to challenge them.

Busy places tend to card customers more often, possibly because the clerks know a lot of people are watching, Wolford said.

Money to pay the girls for the hours they spend in the enforcement program is paid out of a $5,000 grant financed by proceeds from successful state lawsuits against tobacco companies, Wolford said.

Hagerstown City Police received about $20,000 for enforcement efforts. Other projects include putting plainclothes officers at school bus stops before and after school looking for underage kids with tobacco products.

"In two days, we gave out 15 citations," said Officer Steve Cromer, who has been working in those operations.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|