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Tobacco sales citations hold steady in NC

For the last two years, the number of North Carolina stores caught selling tobacco to a minor during random compliance checks has remained steady at 16 percent. State officials say they'd like to see the number decline, but worry budget problems will cut into their main tool for combating illegal cigarette sales. Of the more than 6,500 stores checked for compliance last year, a thousand failed the test by selling tobacco to someone under 18. North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement Director Bill Chandler says urban and rural areas have similar rates of compliance. He says a sales clerk's experience on the job is the best indicator of potential for citation. "The longer you're there, the less likely you are to sell," says Chandler. "The sellers that have less than 30 days are 5.25 times more likely to sell in that first 30 days. So what we realized what we need is to target these people. But you don't target them with enforcement. You target them with training." Chandler says the state offers free training programs for clerks who sell alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets. Impending budget cuts will make it harder to enforce the tobacco sales laws, but Chandler hopes to avoid cutting back on training programs for sales clerks. "We've finally got them in the habit of checking IDs or asking for IDs, they're just not checking them correctly. Sometimes they can't do the math. Sometimes they just think, we'll if you show me an ID, you must be of age." Chandler hopes new vertical North Carolina licenses being issued to drivers under 21 will reduce careless tobacco violations. The Alcohol Law Enforcement Division hires 16 and 17-year-olds to help test for compliance by attempting to buy tobacco products at randomly-selected stores. A clerk caught selling tobacco to someone under 18 can face fines up to a thousand dollars. Store owners are not held responsible like they are for illegal alcohol sales. The tobacco sales citation rate for Mecklenburg and six surrounding counties was slightly lower than the state average: 15 percent of 776 stores checked in the region were caught selling tobacco to minors.