Carbondale cracks down on stores violating tobacco age limit
Nearly half the stores that sell nicotine products in Carbondale failed to comply with the town’s new tobacco age limit of 21 in the first round of compliance checks.
Four out of 10 businesses tested sold tobacco or e-cigarette products to someone between 18 and 20 years without asking to see identification, according to an investigation by Carbondale police.
Selling tobacco to someone less than 21 years of age in Carbondale means a citation with a $1,300 fine for the store owner, and a $130 fine for the attendant or employee who made the sale.
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling presented the results of the November investigation at the Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday. In an interview, Schilling said he has no way of telling how much tobacco product is getting into the hands of young students if 40 percent of stores fail to comply with the ordinance.
“That’s 40 percent who sold to someone underage. That doesn’t even count those students that may be getting people of age to buy for them,” Shilling said. “Getting hooked on this stuff at a young age is not a good thing.”
After the Board of Trustees approved raising the age limit in July, officers personally visited each business location to inform them of the new rule before it became effective in September, Schilling said.
The operation included a police associate between 18 and 20 attempting to buy tobacco or vape products while an undercover police officer stood inside the store as a witness.
Part of the impetus for raising the legal age limit for tobacco was to decrease the availability of vaping products for school-aged students. School resource officers have noticed a sharp rise in students vaping around schools this year, Schilling said.
One of the stores that failed Carbondale’s tobacco compliance check was 7-Eleven at Main Street and Highway 133. The store also received a warning letter for selling e-liquid — which contains nicotine and is inhaled by users through vaporizers — to a minor during a federal inspection on July 31, according to Food and Drug Administration data. A manager at 7-Eleven said she was not authorized to provide a statement for the store.
Mary Bos, owner of Main Street Spirits, said that since she received the citation for failing the compliance check she has reminded her employees of the policy to check identification for anyone who looks less than 30 years old.
Main Street Spirits does not sell e-cigarettes, but the employee who sold the cigarettes during the police operation still works for the store.
“I consider her my safest employee right now,” Bos said. “She will be carding anyone 30 or younger.”
“Our goal in doing compliance checks is really to help the youth, and try and get them to where they aren’t addicted to any kind of tobacco products,” Schilling said in an interview.
Managers of the other two stores that failed the compliance check did not return requests for comment.
The Carbondale Board of Trustees has $10,000 set aside in the proposed 2019 budget to assist tobacco cessation programs for those younger than 21.
The Carbondale board may eventually consider licensing tobacco and e-cigarette stores. For now, the town will stick to compliance checks and may do another investigation before the end of the year, Schilling said.