Compliance checks well-intended and part of the privilege of a license to sell

John Mueller,

If you’re a thorough reader of the police blotter we run every week, you may have noticed a few weeks back we included reports of the police department checking licensed tobacco retailers in New Prague to make sure they are not selling products to customers not yet old enough to legally possess or consume the products.

There are 14 businesses in the city holding licenses to sell tobacco products. One of the conditions of holding a city-issued license is accepting compliance checks. The police department declined a request for information on how many license-holders properly made sure they only sold to customers appropriately old enough to purchase tobacco products and referred the request to city hall. Those businesses which sold to underage buyers will likely face administrative and civil penalties through the city. The clerks will also be fined and face penalties through the courts as well.

It should be noted businesses holding a license to sell alcohol products accept similar compliance checks.

Some folks like to call these compliance checks ‘stings,’ but that seems hardly accurate or appropriate. Businesses interested in making profits selling tobacco and alcohol need a license to do so. Part of the right to sell those legal products is a license issued by the city. It contains the provision of a compliance check.

Hopefully, people will be pleased the city is doing what it can to keep products meant for adults out of the hands of children. Children today grow up fast enough, probably too fast. They can wait to decide whether or not tobacco and alcohol are products they want to use.

Back in ‘75, several young teens in the neighborhood gathered behind McGuire’s garage and tried smoking. Today, they call ‘em lung darts. That sounds about right. After two inhaled Marlboro Reds – smoked ‘em down almost to the filter – the group dispersed when Mrs. McGuire arrived home and broke up the gathering. Mom could smell what had been going on and wasn’t completely surprised when her second youngest became ill from his introduction to smoking. In hindsight, it was the best outcome possible.

Since six of her seven smoked regularly at one time or another, she knew the scent all too well. We can argue long and hard about the appropriate age when a person should legally be permitted to consume tobacco products. If you say an 18-year-old can die in combat but can’t have a beer or a cigarette, what do you think of increasing the minimum age of combat service to 21?

Having used smokeless tobacco for a few years and malted beverages before reaching the legal age, your time is too valuable to go down that rabbit hole here. But the argument the checks are a valuable tool is easy to make. Growing up, we knew which businesses would sell a youngster loose-leaf tobacco, snuff or a case of beer. Today as an adult looking back, just because we could, didn’t always mean we should. You get smarter as you get older and there is a time for everything.

Years ago in Shakopee, the compliance checks included an underage buyer supervised by police. The child’s parents OK’d their child participating in the compliance check. The child attempts to make a purchase. If successful, the clerk is handed a citation for selling tobacco or alcohol to an underage buyer. The business is also notified of the offense and informed it will face a fine for the offense. Multiple violations might bring suspension of their license to sell the products. Typically, the manager complains and lays the fault at the clerk’s feet, ignoring the notion the store is willing to profit from the sale of tobacco or alcohol.

Historically, training on the ease and importance of carding potentially underage buyers is part of the process of preparing the clerk for work behind the till. After all, the fine a clerk receives for violating the law uses up way too many hours of paid time.

Having worked in a convenience store, it’s easy to card almost everyone born since 1975 and not give a dang if they are inconvenienced or annoyed. Licenses to sell tobacco and alcohol aren’t cheap. And in today’s world, it’s always easier to blame the lawmaker who set the age limit and protect your paycheck. Blame the lawmaker, blame anybody. Sadly, that’s what we do these days.

Just do what ought to be done.



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