SuperAmerica Burned in Sting

BURNSVILLE, Minn. -- A bustling Burnsville convenience store was scorched by a tobacco sting operation that will likely lead to the suspension of its license to sell tobacco and a stiff fine.

The SuperAmerica convenience store was caught selling cigarettes to minors five times in two years. It must pay a $10,000 fine and will not be allowed to sell any tobacco products for one year, the Burnsville City Council decided yesterday. The council will finalize the penalty at its Feb. 19 meeting. The ruling is believed to be Minnesota's stiffest civil penalty to date for selling cigarettes to minors, according to the (St. Paul, Minn.) Pioneer Press.

The company estimates the store will lose about $600,000 in sales. The SuperAmerica unit also faces potential criminal charges in the case.

Although Minnesota law caps penalties for alcohol sales to minors at a 60-day license suspension and a $2,000 fine, there is no such cap for tobacco sales, the report said.

Revoking the store's license for so long could put the store out of business, said SuperAmerica regional manager Jim Basler. The station sells about $30,000 worth of tobacco products each month, he said. Cigarettes buyers account for about 20 percent of the store's sales, meaning that those who pay $3 to $5 for a pack spend another $20,000 monthly on soda, snacks and gas.

Anti-smoking advocates turned a deaf ear to the retailer's plight. "If you do [go out of business], it's your own fault. ? We didn't sell those cigarettes," said Burnsville Council Member Liz Workman, who in 1999 helped design the city's tough tobacco policy, which has fines and penalties nearly double that of surrounding communities.

Basler apologized to the council for the violations and said the store's manager and the clerk responsible for the fifth violation, in November, had both been fired. He asked the council to allow the company to begin a municipal training and education program in exchange for a minimal penalty.

"Our concern is not just passing compliance tests," Basler said. "Our concern is not selling tobacco or alcohol to minors."

If a store sells cigarettes to minors working with local police, the clerk and store are fined and, in Burnsville, the business is checked again within 60 days. Minnesota state law requires only one check each year with no follow-ups. No other store in the state has been fined four times since the ordinance began in 1999.
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