The New York Association of Convenience Stores this week commended New York’s neighborhood retail stores for achieving a record-high level of underage tobacco sales prevention, but said there is still more work to be done.
The latest report on underage tobacco sales enforcement, just released by the New York State Department of Health, shows that during the 18 months ending March 31, 2012, fully 95 percent of stores refused to sell tobacco to undercover minors working with health inspectors — the highest compliance rate since the enforcement program began 14 years earlier.
“In 1998, nearly one in five of these sting operations resulted in the sale of tobacco to a minor,” said NYACS President Jim Calvin. “Now, the failure rate has dropped to only one in 20. That’s terrific progress. But even one sale of cigarettes to a minor is too many, so retailers must keep striving for 100 percent compliance.”
The report highlights the accomplishments of the state’s Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act (ATUPA), which requires retailers to verify the age of tobacco purchasers. A first violation can cost a store a fine of $300 to $1,000; a second brings a fine up to $1,500 and possible suspension of the store’s tobacco and lottery licenses for six months.
Calvin attributed the improvement in underage sales prevention to two main factors:
– Diligent ATUPA enforcement by state and local health departments; and
– Voluntary, good-faith steps taken by responsible retailers to prevent underage sales.
“Shopkeepers have adopted strict ID policies, trained and re-trained their employees, deployed ‘We Card’ signage and calendars, even had clerks sign affidavits acknowledging their age-verification responsibilities,” Calvin noted. “In some cases, they hire an outside company to do simulated compliance checks, to detect any weaknesses in execution. Some stores program cash registers to lock out a tobacco transaction until the purchaser’s date of birth is entered. The card swipe feature on their New York Lottery terminal is often used to scan the person’s New York driver’s license to verify age. All these tools are helping drive down the failure rate.”
The ATUPA law requires cashiers to ID any tobacco customer who appears younger than 25. That’s not as easy in practice as it sounds on paper, and honest errors in judgment sometimes occur. To remove the guesswork, thereby further reducing the risk of underage sales, NYACS is supporting a bill sponsored by state Senator Patrick Gallivan (S.3493) that would require every purchaser of tobacco and alcohol in a retail store – regardless of age – to present ID.
“As parents, citizens, and responsible retailers, we share the community’s commitment to preventing youth access to tobacco, and this progress reflects that,” Calvin said.