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Maryland Retailers Beware

Howard County's new tobacco sales inspectors are to hit the streets this week to begin enforcing two recently enacted laws aimed at helping prevent underage youths from smoking. The two inspectors, whom Health Department officials won't publicly identify, will inspect the 270 county businesses that sell tobacco, many of which are convenience stores, to ensure that product displays are out of the reach of customers and that tobacco is not being sold to minors, according to the Baltimore Sun."We don't want to issue citations," one of the unidentified inspectors said. The goal is compliance with the law, they said, and no effort will be made to deceive store clerks. The county law governing displays was approved late last year, but it has taken the county months to hire and train the two inspectors, who are paid with settlement money from the state's tobacco lawsuit. Merchants found in violation of the display law will get a warning first, the report said. A second county law approved later changed selling tobacco to minors from a criminal to a civil infraction. Violations will prompt an immediate citation -- $50 for the clerk and $250 for the business owner. Anyone receiving a citation can pay the fine or file an appeal for a civil hearing in District Court. "The merchants want to abide by and follow the law," said Ken Williams, president of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. "But they don't want to feel as if they are being held solely responsible for minors trying to buy tobacco products."
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