There Goes the Tobacco Man

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There Goes the Tobacco Man

LOS ANGELES -- The battle to reduce underage smoking took an unusual twist this week.

While convenience stores have been frequent targets for police looking to reduce incidents of teen smoking, other retailers have emerged as hot spots for minors looking to buy a pack of smokes. Now the heady days when a kid could score a pack of smokes along with his Pink Panther bar in Los Angeles are gone -- thanks to a police crackdown on ice cream truck drivers.

Police swept down on the musical vendors after parents in a south Los Angeles neighborhood complained that their grade-school children were coming home with cigarettes, city officials said. The sweep netted 31 packs of contraband cigarettes and five ice cream truck drivers whose "Pop Goes the Weasel" music signaled more than a sugar rush, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said Friday.

"The joy of an ice cream cone and the innocence of childhood should not go up in smoke because of those who prey on our children for profit," Delgadillo told reporters. "The music signaling the arrival of the ice cream truck should make children think of ice cream, not cigarettes."

Noting that illegal cigarette sales deprive the state of $400 million each year in tax revenues earmarked for health and children's programs, Delgadillo said the ice cream vendors were ordered to pay their fines to tobacco prevention programs.