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    California Retailers Will Require License to Sell Tobacco

    Penalties for violators to include fines, possible criminal prosecution.

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Effective June 30, all wholesalers, distributors and retailers must have a license to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products. Anyone selling cigarettes without a license will be violating California state law, according to the California State Board of Equalization (CSBA).

    Penalties for selling tobacco products without a license include fines of up to $5,000, restrictions on selling cigarette and tobacco products, or criminal prosecution and imprisonment. Failure to publicly display the retailer license is subject to a $500 penalty.

    The CSBA gave the following reasons for the law:

    * It's a two-fold measure, public health and enforcement of tobacco laws, and it is focused on illegal sales to minors.

    * Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States -- killing more than 44,000 Californians each year (approximately 400,000 nationally). Every day, more than 200 California teens try their first cigarette.

    * Studies show that the younger a person starts smoking, the more difficult it is for them to quit.

    * Tobacco is the only addictive product that can be sold without a license.

    * In a 2002 survey, 61.7 percent of daily teenage smokers reported that it is easy to buy a pack of cigarettes.

    * Despite the fact that it has been illegal for more than 100 years, California retailers continue to sell tobacco products to minors.

    * According to the federal Synar Amendment, states that fail to achieve and maintain an illegal sales rate of 20 percent or less are at risk of losing critical federal funding -- in California this means a loss of $100 million.

    * The Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement (STAKE) Act requires that tobacco retailers post a warning sign at each point-of-sale stating that selling to persons under the age of 18 is illegal and subject to penalties. This act also mandates compliance checks.

    * When employed, the STAKE Act works -- according to a 2003 survey, more than 99 percent of clerks who asked youth for identification did not illegally sell tobacco to minors.

    * The new law will help to ensure that it is known who is actually selling tobacco products in California, and to make sure that those who do are complying with state and federal laws in regard to selling to minors.

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