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Tougher Tobacco Laws in Alaska

JUNEAU, Alaska -- While resident rang in the new year this week, state lawmakers welcomed a series of new stringent tobacco laws designed to catch merchants selling tobacco to underage smokers in Alaska.

The tobacco law would impose mandatory fines and other penalties for stores caught selling tobacco to people younger than 18.

The measure was passed by the Legislature in 2001 to address the high rate of teen smokers in Alaska and to preserve a $1.5 million federal substance abuse grant, said the lawmaker who sponsored the provision.

"The laws are not to hurt people, but they are trying to make people understand we have a problem," said Rep. John Harris (R-Valdez). "We have a very serious problem with people selling [tobacco] to minors."

Retailers face a $300 fine and a mandatory 20-day suspension of their tobacco endorsement if a clerk is convicted of selling tobacco to minors. Fines and penalties increase with each subsequent violation over two years, culminating with a $2,500 fine and a one-year suspension for a fourth offense.

Previously, the state had the discretion to suspend a store owner's tobacco license for 45 days for the first offense but imposed no fines. Fines of up to $300 remain on the books for clerks who sell cigarettes to minors. The law also increases the cost of a tobacco license from $25 to $100, the report said.
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