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As enforcement of state tobacco sales laws becomes increasingly more strict, it’s a good idea for anybody who sells tobacco products to stay on top of his or her sales practices, particularly where their employees are concerned.

Arkansas state law forbids the sale of any tobacco-containing product to people under the age of 18.  You, as a convenience store owner, know that.  But how diligent are your cash register employees in making sure the law is observed?

DO NOT Sell Cigarettes to Children!Arkansas Tobacco Control takes very seriously the sale of tobacco to minors.  They perform routine inspections of stores that sell tobacco products.  You can go to their website here and click on the 2010 annual report for a PDF of what the agency accomplished in that year, the most recent available on the site.

The report says that 5,262 compliance checks were performed in 2010, turning up only 380 violations, for a 7.22% violation rate.  That’s quite a change from 2002, when just 217 checks were made that uncovered a violation rate of 17.97%.

Business owners are obviously paying more attention to the law on tobacco sales.  Yet as long as any violations occur, you can be assured that Arkansas Tobacco Control will continue its vigilant search for those breaking the law.  And rightfully so, because the law is the law, whether or not someone agrees with it.

A good way for you and your employees to look at this situation is to view EVERY person who could POSSIBLY be under 18 as an “undercover” plant hoping to catch you making a sale to a customer who is underage.  Many stores have wound up in big trouble through these kinds of “sting” operations.

Some large chain stores such as superstores and big grocery outlets have a policy to card everyone who appears to be under 40 or even 50.  Years ago, there were policies in a lot of stores to card if the person looked to be 27 or younger.  That’s not a good policy, because you’re leaving it up to the judgment of your cashiers – who may not even be 27 themselves.

Forty years old is a better card policy, but even then you’re relying on the judgment of in many cases a young person who isn’t good at determining how old someone is.  More importantly, you’re risking one of your biggest-selling and most profitable lines, should violations occur.

Some stores have turned to a POS system that allows for (requires) the swiping of a state ID card or driver’s license for every tobacco (and liquor) sale.  This is a good solution, because you have a record that proves EVERYONE who bought tobacco was of legal age.

Short of using that technology, it’s not a bad idea to require your employees to simply card everybody.  And to make sure they’re doing it, you can send in a few “plants” of your own from time to time to check up on them.

Glidewell Distributing is totally in favor of increasing tobacco sales – because people are going to buy it, and you might as well be the store profiting from it.  But we are equally in favor of complying with the law and believe a zero-tolerance policy is best when it comes to tobacco (and alcohol) sales.

The Glidewell Team