Penalties for retailers added to tobacco ordinance
St. Croix County has a new tool for keeping retailers and their employees from selling tobacco products to minors.
Last Thursday, the County Board amended the county ordinance banning tobacco sales to minors to include penalties for retailers and store clerks who knowingly violate the ordinance.
The ordinance makes an individual who sells cigarettes or other tobacco products to someone under the age of 18 subject to a forfeiture of up to $500.
The actual amount of the fine for the first offense hasn't been established yet, according to Sheriff Dennis Hillstead. The ordinance sets the minimum forfeiture for the second violation within a year at not less than $200.
The ordinance also allows a court to suspend a retailer's license to sell tobacco products for up to three days for a first offense, three to 10 days for the third violation within a year, and 15 to 30 days for the fourth violation within a year.
Before it was amended, the tobacco ordinance allowed the county to cite minors who purchased cigarettes, but didn't include penalties for retailers and their employees.
Hillstead said that meant retailers who violated the ordinance had to be charged with a misdemeanor under the state law banning tobacco sales to minors.
By including penalties for retailers in the county ordinance, the county can issue violators a citation similar to a traffic ticket.
But Hillstead told county supervisors that education, rather than punishment, is the real thrust of the county's attempt to halt the sale of cigarettes to minors.
He said retailers aren't cited for the first violation or, in some cases, the second violation.
"We know that kids come in, they've got false IDs, and some of them look older. We're not interested in crucifying anybody on this," the sheriff said when asked later about the enforcement issue.
Hillstead said the main problem is with young store clerks who knowingly sell tobacco products to minors. "We want to educate them that they should not be doing that," he added.
The St. Croix County Department of Health and Human Services is the agency designated to enforce compliance with the ordinance. It does so in partnership with the Pierce/St. Croix Tobacco Free Coalition. The coalition periodically conducts investigations in which minors attempt to purchase tobacco products from St. Croix and Pierce County retailers.
In other action at its Sept. 15 meeting, the St. Croix County Board:
Randy Hanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org