Mass. Retailers Get High Marks

TAUNTON, Mass. -- In its first year of sanctioning spot checks of local convenience stores, the city has seen the number of businesses selling tobacco to minors nearly drop by half.

According to numbers released by the Southeastern Regional Services Tobacco Control Group (SERTOG), the number of businesses found selling tobacco to minors decreased from 18 at the start of 2001 to 11 last month. The numbers have decreased while the number of businesses licensed to sell tobacco in the city has increased, according to The Taunton Gazette.

SERTOG, a state-funded agency, began policing local tobacco vendors last year after receiving Board of Health approval. The local tobacco group conducts quarterly compliance checks of local businesses to see if the stores are selling tobacco to minors. Vendors who are found selling tobacco products to minors are ordered to take education classes and repeat offenders are fined and warned their tobacco licenses may be rescinded.

According to the SERTOG report, 18 businesses were found to have sold tobacco to minors in the city's first authorized compliance check of 74 establishments in January 2001. In the most recent check last month, 91 businesses were targeted and only 11 businesses failed the check. Throughout the year, a total of 347 checks were made in the city and 50 violations were noted.

The compliance checks have not been met with open arms by all businesses. Some local business owners refer to the compliance checks as "sting operations" and argue they border on entrapment.

"Some times they'll come in at the busiest times and hope someone slips up," said Dan Walsh, owner of Egan's convenience store, whose business passed all four checks. "Most of the time, they come in when a kid is working the register. You'll never see a business owner intentionally sell tobacco to minor."
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