Even though state laws ban the sale of tobacco to anyone younger than 18, the government estimates that minors spend $1.6 billion a year on tobacco. A new FDA regulation that just took effect requires retailers to demand photo identification from young-looking cigarette buyers. Store owners caught selling tobacco to minors face federal fines of $250 per violation. JIM BLAIR spoke to two merchants about the new regulation.
ABDUL HAMID RASOOL
Operates Easy Market, Van Nuys
We've been in business for three years now and we have all kinds of customers--adults, kids. I sell all kinds of cigarettes. The regulation of cigarette sales is fine. We follow the rules. We have to check IDs. The younger kids usually don't have IDs and they look kind of suspicious--use sunglasses to look older and so on.
Smoking is bad for you whether you're younger or older, under 18 or over 25 or any age, liquor, smoking is no good at all. But in my opinion what they did was only political to get attention from the news media. But no matter what, it will stay the same problem. If the kids want to smoke, they will do it anyway.
If the politicians really want to stop smoking by kids, they have to start with the manufacturers.
Being carded is insulting for some people; they don't like it.
One thing I'll tell you, it's somebody else's job to teach kids not to smoke. You have to start when they're younger. It's like a fire. You don't let it start, once it starts it can be hard to put out. But they put pressure on us--shop keepers. It's unfair pressure on the small business person. They're telling us 'don't sell this' but then they allow all the liquor and [tobacco] companies advertising.
Operator of Notrica's 32nd St. Market and of markets in Bellflower, Long Beach, Carson and Lomita
I've been on this corner for 37 years. I grew up in the neighborhood. I'm not taking the side of the smoker and I'm not taking the side of the nonsmoker, but I will say that if the government continues to do what it's doing, by the year 2000 you're going to have the government tell you what time to go to bed.
What's happening in the business world, with the all the restrictions and legislation and activists is that they have ruined the liquor industry. They have ruined the tobacco industry.
Every time you ask somebody for their ID, it causes alienation. We have signs explaining the rules, but people read they want to read. It has cost us business.
I feel we run a legitimate business. If this is what the government wants, this is what we'll do. I don't smoke. I don't like young people smoking, don't like the old people smoking. But if this is a legitimate business, that's their choice. You know this still is America.
All I see is that increasingly, regulations are taking our freedoms away.
It's hard to run a business today; it's getting almost impossible.