State and local governments, under the guise of public safety, are continuing to pursue “sting” operations to identify irresponsible convenience store clerks that are selling tobacco products to minors. While safety, I’m sure, is part of the equation, the revenue generated by fines is the far bigger picture for lawmakers.
The legal smoking age in most states, at least for the moment, is 18. In three statesAlabama, Alaska and Utah the legal age is set at 19. Some local communities, such as Suffolk County in New York, have even dismissed state law and independently raised the legal smoking age to 19.
The bottom line is if clerks sell tobacco products to someone under the legal age, they are guilty of a crime and can be fined $200 or more for each offense. In addition, employers whose clerks break the law could also be fined and possibly lose their tobacco licenses.
To ensure this does not happen, many state associations offer free tobacco sales training for members to make sure clerks have a clear understanding of the law and help keep storeowners from becoming another statistic in U.S. legal system.
Effective sales training tips include:
- Always ask for picture identification from anyone purchasing tobacco whoappears to be under the age of 27. Use a short phrase such as “May I see somepicture I.D., please?”
- Take the time to examine the I.D. Simply glancing at an I.D. is not enough.You must confirm that the identity on the card matches the customer. You alsomust calculate age.
- Here’s an easy way to quickly calculate the age. It’s called the “Plus20; Minus 2 rule.” Add 20 years to the birth date listed on the driver’s licenseand subtract two years from that total (birth date: 1986 + 20 = 2006 – 2 =2004). This means that if today’s date is 9-1-06, the customer’s birth datemust be 9-1-88 or earlier to make him or her old enough to buy tobacco.
- Checking an I.D. is the best way to make sure tobacco is not sold to minors.You must not rely on how old a person looks or acts. Some features (such asheight, build, a beard or mustache, make-up, clothing or attitude) may leademployees to think that teens are older than they appear.
If a customer complains, tell them it is against state law to sell to minors and that there are fines and penalties for breaking the law. Tell the customer, “If I sell to you I could be fined $200 and charged with a crime.”
Tips for Employers
When a policy matters to managers, it matters to employees. Set the tonein your store by showing you are serious about not selling tobacco to minors.
- Regularly schedule an employee meeting to train employees on how to complywith state law.
- Require that all employees attend.
- Require all employees to read and sign the written agreement that clearlystates your store policy prohibiting the sale of cigarettes and tobacco productsto minors.
- Offer positive reinforcement and ongoing reminders to employees about theimportance of obeying the law.
- Remind employees that following this law maintains your store’s reputationof being a good citizen.
Display signs near the front counter where customers and employeeswill see it and be reminded of the law, criminal charges and fines they canreceive if they sell tobacco products to minors or are a minor trying to illegallypurchase tobacco.
Signs might not stop minors from trying to buy cigarettes, but they will serveas constant, positive training tools for employees as well as forewarn adultconsumers that they need to be prepared to show I.D. when making tobacco purchases.