| Jul 20, 2006


Feature Article - July 20, 2006

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Feature Article - July 20, 2006

Local retailers see smoke over HealthUnitCampaign

by JeffGreen

A couple of weeks ago, KFL&A Public Health released a press statement entitled “Tobacco Retailers and Employees busted for selling to youths”.

The statement says that “after a number of inspections by KFL&A Public Health staff, 18 local retailers sold tobacco to underage youths since the beginning of April. With 56 stores inspected, the compliance rate of 68% is disappointing to public health officials, and further proof that programs by the tobacco industry to keep tobacco products out of the hands of kids are full of smoke.”

The main target of Health Unit wrath seems to be the Operation ID program, which is an initiative of the tobacco industry and the Canadian Coalition for Responsible Tobacco Retailing.

“We can’t comprehend how the tobacco industry can advertise a compliance rate of 94% of retailers refusing to sell to youths through their Operation ID program,” said Jo-Anne Peterson, the manager of tobacco control with KFL&A Public Health.

Letters

Among the 18 retailers listed in the press release are four that are located in rural Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Counties , including Stop 41 in Denbigh, Northbrook IGA, the Plevna Freshmart and The Sharbot Lake General Store.

The employees who sold the tobacco received fines of $250 and in most cases the retailer received the same fine. But at least one of the retailers, Bob Basra of the Sharbot Lake Retail Centre, felt that Public Health were overly zealous on the day they sent in an underage girl to buy cigarettes.

Bob’s daughter Jaskirn was working behind the counter at the time. “There was a lot going on in the store at the time,” Jaskirn recalls, “there were three or four people unloading stock and the store was crowded. And the girl didn’t look young.”

Bob Basra was not in the store at the time, but was called in when the Public Health supervisor came into the store and informed Jaskirn Basra that the infraction has occurred.

“They were very aggressive,” Bob Basra recalls, “overly aggressive. It’s not as if we haven’t been tested before. They’ve been to our store before, and we never sold them tobacco.”

The News contacted the Northbrook IGA as well, but the manager said she had been informed by her parent company that she should not comment publicly on what had happened at the Northbrook IGA, but when told of what Bob Basra had said, she expressed sympathy for the position he took.

Paula Muis, a Public Health Promoter with KFL&A Public Health told the News that she did not know off hand how many times the Sharbot Lake General Store has been checked in recent years.

She did say, “We try to have is as real life a situation as possible. Our shoppers have all been age tested. We take them to a local mall and ask people how old they look. Basically they look their age. And they carry their actual ID.”

Muis also said that the enforcement officers that enter stores identify themselves. “Unfortunately you sold someone who is underage a pack of cigarettes.” the retailer is told. “The materials have been out for along time now, and the retailers have been well informed. It’s a matter of them remaining diligent at all times. They have the tools. They have to use them,” Muis said.

Muis said that Public Health’s enforcement program differs from Operation ID because it goes one step further.

“Under Operation ID, they send in a shopper, but the shopper does not have ID. When they are challenged, they just leave. We have the shopper present their actual ID, and it is up to the retailer to properly check the date,” Muis said in accounting for Public Helath’s 68% compliance as compared to the Operation ID’s 92% compliance.

According to Bob Basra, it is not retailers who are responsible for most of the underage smoking that goes on. “We sell fewer and fewer cigarettes each year,” Basra said, “People are buying them from the black market, and they are sold to kids of any age.”

“A lot of cigarettes are obtained by youth through family and friends that are of age,” said Paula Muis, acknowledging that retailers are responsible for a minority of the cases of underage smoking. “We can not quantify the black market, but it is a huge source.”

The retailers that have been fined will have to be vigilant in the future. A second conviction within a five-year period carries a six-month prohibition on the selling of tobacco.

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