Court ruling cuts tobacco enforcement money

Posted: Friday, March 24, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state's effort to keep businesses from selling tobacco to minors will lose about $200,000 in federal money as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The federal contract came from the Food and Drug Administration, said Dr. Peter Nakamura, director of the state Public Health Division.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that the FDA cannot regulate tobacco, it brought an abrupt end to tobacco-sale investigations, said Larry Bussone, the state's FDA coordinator.

''I got a message yesterday that said 'Cease and desist and have all your contract officers in the field cease and desist,' '' Bussone said Wednesday.

The state did more than 1,000 undercover checks of about 70 businesses since 1998 under the contract, including stores in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka, Bussone said.

The program wasn't in place long enough to statistically prove it was making a difference, Bussone said. But he thought the inspections were having the desired effect.

While 36.7 percent of businesses were found selling to minors in 1999, so far this year that percentage was 32.2 percent.

The state subcontracted with several police departments and individual officers to do some of the inspections and had state employees do others.

The state contract was to enforce an FDA regulation, and because of the Supreme Court decision, that regulation can no longer be enforced.

The state has its own law on tobacco sales, restricting access to people under 19. The problem is the state doesn't have much money set aside to enforce its own law.

With the contract coming to an end, the only funds left for investigation will be about $14,500 in state tobacco tax money that's being used to do compliance checks in Anchorage and Fairbanks area, Bussone said. That will pay for about 100 compliance checks, about a 10th of what the federal program was doing.

Nakamura said he didn't know whether the state will ask the Legislature to provide more money for the program.

''It's a little early yet,'' he said. ''I'd say we would seek money from anywhere we could get it.''

Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican who heads the House Finance Committee, said , he had just become aware of the problem and didn't know whether more state money might be provided.

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