Businesses Fail Tobacco Sales Compliance Check

Eight southwest North Dakota businesses recently failed a cigarettes sales compliance check performed by the Southwest District Health Unit. Officials said the number of sales to minors increased from previous studies.

Regional businesses are checked each quarter by authorized individuals younger than 18 years of age who ask to buy tobacco products, Southwest District Health Unit Tobacco Prevention and Control Coordinator Bobbie Olson said.

Fifty-six businesses were checked region-wide, Olson said, adding that the number of businesses selling products to minors increased from the previous two checks, which found five businesses in non-compliance.

In Dickinson, the Cenex convenience store on 15th Street West, The 19th Hole, DJ’s Amoco Food Shop and the Pit Stop sold to minors. In Hettinger, Alliance Ag Cooperative and Kennedy’s Fresh Foods sold to underage patrons. Fitterer Sales Inc. in Mott and Farmers Union Oil in Killdeer were also found in non-compliance, Olson said.

Minors must show their identification if asked, but some employees never requested and others sold after seeing the identification, Olson said.

“We definitely worry,” Olson said about the increased number of sellers. “Especially when they’re repeat offenders.”

This was the second time this year that Kennedy Fresh Foods was caught selling tobacco to minors, Olson said.

Fresh Foods Manager Mike Kennedy said they are unsure what happened or who sold the products, adding that the store has had an influx of new workers. Kennedy said he plans on having informational meetings and training as well as requiring the entry of the customer’s birthday into the computer before making a sale.

“Every pack that goes through the system will have to have a date entered,” he said.

“We are not the enforcing agency,” Olson said of the SWDHU, adding that it is at the discretion of other enforcement to cite businesses that fail the checks and that it varies between communities.

Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning said he has not prosecuted businesses who fail the checks.

“We frequently don’t because most of the violations we experience are lack of training,” he said. “It is not our experience in the past that they are disregarding the law.”

Henning added that in the case a business had the intent to sell to minors, legal proceedings may take place. However, he said he has found other means of punishment just as useful.

“There are other remedies short of prosecution, such as license penalties, that are less drastic and every bit as effective,” he said.

Olson said keeping tobacco out of the hands of kids is important because the average age of habit-forming use is between 12 and 13.

“We can’t control if kids are taking them from friends or parents,” Olson said. “One place we can control is the retail outlets. If we make it difficult to get, they are less likely to start.”

Olson said her department has seen a lot of improvement since the implementation of the program 10 years ago. Almost half of businesses checked the first time sold to minors, whereas now it is about one in seven.

Even with the vast improvement, Olson said she is hoping for complete compliance.

“We are always aiming for zero sales,” she said.

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