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Clerks Fooled by Teen Smokers

Convenience store clerks may be too quick to trust teens who voluntarily show an ID when asking for cigarettes, a California study suggests.

Underage buyers who flashed a picture ID before a clerk were likelier to be sold cigarettes than youths who sought to buy smokes without an ID, according to a report published in the recent issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Clerks frequently ask young customers to produce ID as required by law but then often fail to examine it to calculate age or to compare the photo to the customer's face," wrote Dr. Hope Landrine of San Diego State University.

The researchers recruited 12 teenagers, ages 15 to 17, to try to purchase cigarettes at a total of 227 c-stores in California. The teens went to stores after school and either asked for cigarettes without showing an ID or by flashing a state ID or driver's license when asking for cigarettes.

Clerks sold cigarettes to teens four times more often when the teens flashed an ID than when they
simply asked for cigarettes, the findings indicate. "When youth flash ID, clerks may assume that they are old enough to buy cigarettes," Landrine's team said.

Clerks who do not closely examine IDs may be undermining the intent of federal and state laws that require young people to show ID when trying to buy cigarettes, according to the researchers. They point out that many youths may flash a fake ID or an adult's ID when trying to buy cigarettes.

Overall, the study said, clerks asked teens their ages 12 percent of the time and for ID 56 percent of the time. Clerks did use some discretion when deciding whether to sell teens cigarettes, the report said. Younger teens were less likely to be sold cigarettes. Clerks were 10 times more likely to sell cigarettes to 17-year-olds than to 15-year-olds.

Mike Mason, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), said the industry "is committed to deterring every attempt by minors to buy tobacco." NACS backed up its efforts by helping develop the "We Card" program, with the help of the tobacco industry, to educate retailers about verifying the age of people trying to buy cigarettes.

NACS figures show that stores that participate in "We Card" are 12 times more likely to ask for ID than those that don't take part. Cigarettes and other tobacco products account for approximately one-third of industry sales -- second only to gasoline.
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