Sting Nets Tobacco Sales To Minors
GUILFORD -- Half of the state-licensed tobacco dealers in town were caught selling tobacco to minors during an undercover sting Wednesday, a rate of noncompliance that is four times the state average.
Thirteen of Guilford's 26 tobacco dealers sold cigarettes to underage teens working with the local police and the tobacco compliance unit of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, officials said.
The clerks, all first-time offenders, were arrested and fined $200.
The rate of illegal tobacco sales has dropped dramatically in Connecticut in five years, from 70 percent in 1996 to 13 percent in 2001, according to Robert Roy, chief of the state's tobacco compliance unit.
That is what made Guilford's numbers so shocking, he said.
"This is unusually high and it signals a real problem," Roy said. "We try to inspect as often as we can, get out to every town possible, and I can't recall numbers this high in years. The vendors simply aren't doing their job."
The state sent trained recruits, 16 and 17 years old, into the gas stations, delis and pharmacies to buy cigarettes, Roy said. The law requires state-licensed dealers to check identification and prohibits tobacco sales to anyone under 18.
The clerks who broke the law gave investigators a variety of excuses, but the most common one was that they thought they had verified the teen's age in a previous sale. A clerk in one store cited Wednesday said the fine didn't surprise him.
"Who works at these stores? It's kids, mostly, who don't know the law, don't seem to really care and don't want to let down their friends who come in to buy," said the clerk, who declined to give his name. "On the other hand, the bosses don't seem to mind taking their money."
The tobacco unit will report any tobacco vendor that violates the terms of its state license to the state Department of Special Revenue. The state will fine the vendor $200. Repeat violators face larger fines and possible revocation of their dealer licenses.
The state would like to inspect every tobacco vendor at least four times a year, but staffing limitations restrict the number of inspections. For example, Roy did not make it to Guilford in 2001.
Local police last conducted a tobacco sting about three years ago, but that did not yield a single arrest, said Deputy Police Chief Thomas Terribile. He said he doesn't know why the situation appears to have changed so drastically.
The police will join forces with other local agencies, including town educators and youth counselors, to educate local businesses on state tobacco laws and turn off the flow of cigarettes to Guilford teenagers, Terribile said.
Police arrested Patricia Barbour of Trav's Guilford Mobil Service, Patricia Carrado of CVS, Marylou Demorest of Guilford Coastal, Lesley Haas of Genovese Drug Store Inc., Cheryl Ann Rogers of Chucky's Food Store, Betsy Montalvo of Texaco Food Mart, Nagajun Keshwala of DB Mart, Clavoia Guercia of Guilford Tavern, Daniel Spillane of The Wine Rack, Edward Festa of Four Corners Texaco, Michael Wegryn of The Corner Store, Nicole Guererra of Guilford Food Center and Jaykumar Shah of Deli & More.