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Licensing Scheme For Tobacco Sales in Hong Kong?

Breaking down Big Tobacco

Article Launched: 12/05/2007 08:17:50 PM PST

WHAT’S the No. 1 product sold at your local convenience store? Milk? Beer?

No and no. Guess again. Lottery tickets? Guess again.

OK, give up? It’s cigarettes. Convenience stores in the U.S. last year sold $56 billion worth of cigarettes, accounting for 35 percent of their sales, according to the Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing’s 2007 State of the Industry Report.

Why are we telling you this? Because the county of Los Angeles is considering establishing a licensing policy for tobacco sellers that strikes at the heart of the convenience stores’ bread and butter. Frankly, the convenience stores are scared to death of such an arrangement because it would lead to a long-overdue tobacco-sales enforcement program that would clamp down on sales to minors.

Considering the cost of tobacco use to residents’ health, local hospitals and taxpayers (Medi-Cal and other entitlements), this figures to be a worthwhile county program. In LA County alone, the health care cost from diseases that are tobacco-related is $2.7 billion. Any drop in sales – especially to minors – would be good for the county and its residents.

Already, some cities police tobacco sales run through convenience stores. Usually, studies show, it sends scofflaws into stores located in county unincorporated areas. The county’s proposed $235-a-year license fee – set for a Dec. 11 vote by the Board of Supervisors – would help shore up this illegal tobacco loophole in unincorporated areas such as Altadena, Rowland Heights, Valinda, Hacienda Heights, etc..

For example, since Pasadena began levying a tobacco sales license fee on stores within its city limits, it has resulted in greater enforcement. Retailers selling cigarettes to minors (that’s illegal, by the way) quickly dropped from 23 percent of retailers in Pasadena to 6 percent. And recently that has gone down to zero, according to testimony given to the county Board of Supervisors from Statice Wilmore who oversees Pasadena’s program.

However, the problem may have moved. According to Day One, a nonprofit group in the west San Gabriel Valley, stings they’ve conducted using underage patrons found convenience store clerks more than willing to sell them cigarettes. The county figures that more than 30 percent of retailers sell cigarettes to minors. Day One’s 15-year-old decoy from Pasadena High School said stores in county areas such as Altadena would ask for her ID, realize she was a minor, but sell her the pack of smokes anyway.

Talk about flaunting the law. This is right up Big Tobacco’s alley: Getting more of our young people hooked on cigarettes.

It’s time to break up the axis of death between Big Tobacco and convenience stores. Because there’s nothing convenient about lung cancer and heart disease.

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