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SAVAGE, Minn. -- The Savage City Council stuck to its guns and continued to hold the line on tobacco sales to minors by imposing some of the toughest fines ever to two businesses that recorded their third violations. An Oasis Market and a Tom Thumb were each fined $1,000 and their tobacco licenses were suspended for six months. That is in accordance with the city's ordinance, which states the penalty "shall be" leveled after the third violation within 36 months of the first one.
Additionally, a third business, Neisen's, was handed a penalty for its second violation. Neisen's received a $500 fine and a 20-day suspension of its tobacco license, according to the Savage (Minn.) Pacer.
Representatives from Oasis and Tom Thumb were at last week's meeting to argue against the stiff fines. Attorney Jay Lindgren represented Oasis Market. He did not dispute that the violations occurred. Ever since the city started doing compliance checks in 1997, the Oasis store in Savage has failed four times -- November 1997, December 1999, December 2000 and April 2002.
Lindgren said Oasis is concerned with its record and has taken steps with each violation to correct the problem. He noted that after the second violation in 1999, an age-verification machine was purchased to help clerks determine the age of people purchasing tobacco products. Management also stepped up training and established a "zero tolerance" policy with its employees in terms of tobacco product sales. And most recently, Oasis began requiring clerks to ask for ID on everyone who is purchasing tobacco products. "So from a practical management standpoint, we've taken all the necessary action to comply with the law," he said.
Lindgren also implored the city council to take into account the "best practices" business measures taken by Oasis to correct the problem. "This goes beyond a management issue and regulatory issue," Lindgren concluded. "It's a societal issue that we need to work on together."
Mayor Tom Brennan said he sympathized with Oasis, but noted the clerk isn't the only problem. "It's also store management that has to be behind the policy and make sure it is followed. If it's a continual problem -- then it's a management issue, not a clerk issue," he said.
Dan Shimk, regional manager for Tom Thumb, also offered no excuses for the third violation. He noted everyone at the Savage store had gone through training about tobacco sales to minors. What's more, a police officer had been to the store a week before the compliance check to talk with employees about the importance of carding everyone when it comes to tobacco sales.
Shimk said Tom Thumb also does its own internal "stings" of clerks to see if they are carding for tobacco sales. If a clerk fails, he or she is terminated on the spot.
Brennan said he talked to the clerk at Tom Thumb who made the illegal sale. "My conversation with her is what made it clear to me that we're not going to solve this problem completely -- that we need to be looking at this differently," he said. The mayor also pointed out that determining whether someone is old enough to buy tobacco products is dependent upon one thing -- asking for ID. "The license is a different color for drivers who are under 18," he pointed out. "You don't have to look at dates and do the math or run the license through a machine. It's not rocket science. All you have to do is ask for the card and look at the color."
Brennan noted the city is working on updating its ordinance to allow for good business practices that are being taken by stores to stop the sale of tobacco products. But the ordinance has not been updated yet; therefore, the city must follow the penalties laid out in the current ordinance.