Workers at Juneau businesses busted for selling tobacco to minors

Posted: Friday, May 03, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Workers at four Juneau businesses have been cited for selling cigarettes to minors, authorities said Thursday .

The businesses could lose their tobacco-sale licenses following an undercover ''sting'' operation that used teen-age operatives.

Juneau police and the state Department of Health and Social Services said they sent teen-agers younger than 19 into local businesses to buy cigarettes in late February. The legal age to buy tobacco in Alaska is 19.

Police issued citations to employees at De Hart's Auke Bay Store, Fisherman's Bend, Family Grocer and Mendenhall Valley Tesoro. Each has pleaded guilty to selling tobacco to minors, said LeRoy Davis, tobacco enforcement officer for the Department of Health and Social Services.

Although store employees were cited, each business also could be fined and lose its tobacco license for up to one year. Penalties will be determined by the Department of Community and Economic Development, which issues tobacco endorsements to businesses.

Pat Shea, general manager of Family Grocer, said his store trains employees to ask minors for identification and to be vigilant about refusing to sell cigarettes to minors.

''What happened here was simple human error,'' Shea told the Juneau Empire. ''I'd like to meet the person who's never made a mistake.''

During the sting, teen-agers went with police officers to randomly chosen stores to try to buy cigarettes, according to Capt. Tom Porter. The officer waited in the parking lot. If the teen was successful in buying cigarettes, the officer issued a citation to the store employee. Porter did not know the fine for the citation.

Shea said the Family Grocer employee who sold the cigarettes had worked for the company for 18 years and made a mathematical error when calculating the age of the teen from a birth date on an ID. The employee was fired, following the store's policy.

''In this case I don't think the punishment fit the crime,'' Shea said. ''None of us wants to sell tobacco to kids and this particular employee hates smoking and actually was one of our managers that trained people in the We Card Program. He was devastated by this.''

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