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    New Hampshire Retailers Cry Foul

    "Sting" operations entrap c-store owners, state defends its practices.

    The proprietors of convenience stores requested Tuesday that the Board of Health take a fresh look at the enforcement policies of the Granby/South Hadley Tobacco Control Program, which is charged with ensuring that stores do not sell tobacco products to children under the age of 18.

    Young Lee, owner of a South Hadley 7-Eleven, said he did not believe the compliance checks were administered fairly at his store because the 16-year-old Amherst girl who performed the check looked at least 10 years older, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

    "If my employees thought this girl was 16, they would not have sold," Lee said.

    The 7-Eleven has been issued one warning and two fines since checks began last fall. If the store violates the law once more, it could lose its license to sell tobacco. However, Health Board Chairman Francis Nelen said that stores could not claim entrapment.

    "The duty of the storekeepers is not to sell to minors," Nelen said. "If you think that the agents are misrepresenting their age than you must have some proof of that."

    Paul Whitten, who owns a Shell Food Mart in Newton, N.H., claims the law unfairly targets law-abiding business owners, and not the clerks who actually violate the law. The store has been cited for one violation in the past year.

    Whitten said he hires a private firm to conduct his own compliance checks and gives cash bonuses to his employees when they pass the checks, but added there is only so much he can do to make sure his employees comply.

    "Our business is a transient business," Whitten said in regard to the turnover rate of his employees. "It is hard for me to control what goes on when I am not in the store. When they sell to a minor, they go on to a new job and I go out of business."

    Sympathetic to Whitten's grievance, the health board recommended that storekeepers speak with members of the state Legislature to get them to change aspects of the law. Police Chief John O'Connor, who also was at the meeting, said that many of the clerks are close to the age of 18, and often are intimidated by customers near their age requesting tobacco.

    "When you are of equal age and making minimum wage, it's much easier for them to sell than to refuse," O'Connor said.

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