Tobacco sting: Shoreline retailers not always checking ID

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Smoke Time on Ballinger Way, cited twice
Photo by Diane Hettrick
The King County Department of Health recently concluded a sting operation in Shoreline to see if retailers were selling tobacco to underage customers.

Underage buyers who appeared older than their actual age to the store clerks were sent into 49 stores in Shoreline and were able to purchase tobacco eight times at six different establishments.
"This is a startling reversal from inspections over the past five years, when a total of six violations (out of 200 inspections) were found over the entire period.  In addition, two locations were found selling to minors twice in 2011.  The establishments cited were:
  • Top Tobacco – 16053 Aurora Ave N (sold twice)
  • Smoke Time – 19939 Ballinger Way NE (sold twice)
  • 7-Eleven – 16920 15th Ave NE
  • Richmond Market – 640 NW Richmond Beach Road
  • Safeway – 17202 15th Ave NE
  • Village Market Thriftway – 20036 Ballinger Way
They represent a variety of stores. Top Tobacco and Smoke Time are tobacco only stores. The Ridgecrest 7-Eleven and the Richmond Market in Richmond Highlands (by QFC) are quick-snack stores, and North City Safeway and the Ballinger Village Market Thriftway are high-end grocery stores.

In Washington State, selling tobacco to a minor is prohibited by law and results in a fine for retailers of $100 for the first offense and education about selling tobacco responsibly. The fine for a clerk is $50. Repeat offenders are fined up to $1,500 and may have their license to sell tobacco products suspended.

Because of the increased sales to minors, Public Health's Tobacco Prevention Program will focus more inspections in Shoreline.

Jim Penhollow, owner of the Ballinger Village Market Thriftway, is horrified at the citation for his store.
"I have owned the Thriftway store at the Ballinger Village for 14 years.  During that period I am aware of one violation that occurred last year with one of our checkers that did not have the proper training in checking identification.  All of our checkers have been trained and now we are in the process of retraining.

"We take this issue very seriously not only for public safety reasons but also for the responsibility and liability of selling products that can be harmful to individuals, especially underaged individuals."
He added that he is seriously considering removing all tobacco products from his store.

Ad for dissolvable tobacco
The Seattle-King County Public Health department worries over teenaged smoking:

"The tobacco industry has responded to tougher federal regulations around the marketing and advertising of cigarettes with new tobacco products that are attractive to youth, such as dissolvable tobacco that closely resembles gum, candy and breath strips, and cigars, cigarillos and snus (teabag-like pouches of tobacco) in flavors such as peach, chocolate, strawberry and grape.

"Sales of tobacco to teens are a high concern because most adult tobacco addictions start in youth; 90% of current smokers became addicted before they were 19 years old. Overall, about a third of all kids who become regular smokers before adulthood will eventually die from smoking. Tobacco use is the leading cause of death in King County, leading to 1,990 deaths per year and $343 million in medical care costs, lost productivity and other expenses."

Anyone who witnesses a merchant or other adults providing tobacco to a minor is encouraged to call Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention Program at 206-296-7613 to file a confidential complaint or text the information to 206-745-2548.


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