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RALEIGH -- A crackdown on tobacco sales to minors took place last month in North Carolina., according to state officials, and grocery stores, drugstores and convenience stores were among the places cited, the Raleigh, N.C. News and Observer reported.
"It's a universal problem that occurs everywhere," said Renee Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.
Despite the health and legal consequences, the majority of young people say they can get cigarettes "fairly or very easily," according to a 2003 federal survey released this month by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
N.C. state law officials are serious about cracking down on store clerks who sell cigarettes to minors, the report stated, citing an example of a 34-year-old man fired from his job as a convenience store manager, and convicted of a misdemeanor offense for selling a pack of Newports to a 17-year-old.
The man, James "Mike" Crosswhite, also paid $700 in legal fees and was ordered to perform 10 hours of community service by dragging a wheelbarrow through a tract of North Durham woods picking up trash left behind after Hurricane Isabel, the report stated.
It is against the law in North Carolina for retail outlets to sell products such as cigars, snuff, cigarettes and bulk tobacco to customers younger than 18. Last year, compliance violations of the state's tobacco laws made up 9 percent of all arrests by the ALE, the state reported.
Only alcohol, drug and traffic arrests accounted for more violations, the ALE reported.
About 104 ALE agents make periodic checks at more 15,000 retail outlets statewide to ensure stores and clerks are in compliance, according to the News and Observer.
ALE arrested more than 150 people last month -- including 53 in the Triangle -- as part of a statewide crackdown on store clerks who sell to underage smokers.