AUSTIN EDITION - Some Austin stores finding tobacco habit hard to break

By Jim Troyer

For the Post-Bulletin

It's harder for people younger than 18 to buy cigarettes in Austin these days.

That's one conclusion from the Austin Police Department's most current test of compliance with the city's tobacco ordinance.

The survey, in which teen volunteers try to buy cigarettes at stores in the city, showed a compliance rate of 69.4 percent compared to 47.3 percent last summer.


Of 49 places checked between June 30 and July 9 this year, 15, or 30.6 percent, sold cigarettes to underage buyers. Last year, 36 businesses were checked and 19, or 52.7 percent, failed to comply with the law.

Public Health Nurse Karen Ferguson, who heads up Mower County's program to counter the health threat tobacco poses, was not impressed with the results.

"I still think 30 percent is awfully high for a failure rate," she said. If store clerks are following the rules, she said, the only reason for an illegal sale would be a false identification card.

"Compliance checks have to be up front," she said. If the volunteer teens are asked how old they are, they have to answer honestly. "It is very straight forward."

According to a release from Police Chief Paul Philipp, those failing the check this year received a citations for the violation and face a fine of $75 under the city's newly amended tobacco ordinance.

Jim Baldus of Jim's SuperValue Store said he supports the compliance program, noting that the police make more than one check before determining compliance or non-compliance.

"I think it's an appropriate way," he said.

The city's ordinance says that second-time offenders face a fine of $100, third time $250, and a fourth offense could mean the license to sell tobacco is forfeited for at least seven days. Tobacco licenses cost $50 in Austin. About 80 are issued annually, bringing the city $4,000.

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