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    N.Y. Certified Tobacco Sales Training Begins

    States two-point penalty for sales violations takes effect.

    DELMAR, N.Y. -- The New York State Department of Health has convenience stores scrambling to obtain certified tobacco sales training for front-line personnel with its abrupt announcement that tobacco violations occurring after June 27, 2003, will count 2 points on the store's record unless the seller had training certification.

    Responding to this need, the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) and the Food Industry Alliance of New York State (FIANYS) have jointly scheduled a series of workshops across the state during July to train and certify employees of convenience stores, supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies and service stations. The statewide tobacco enforcement "point system" law, which took effect October 21, 2002, created a penalty structure under which a store that accumulates the "points" on its record in any three-year period would have its tobacco and lottery licenses suspended for six months.

    Under this system, each conviction for selling tobacco to a minor, in addition to carrying a fine, counts two points on the store's record. However, if the store can show that the employee who made the sale had previously been certified under a state health department-approved tobacco sales training program, only one point is assigned. Thus, given the extent to which many c-stores rely on the tobacco and lottery categories to drive retail traffic, in the event of a tobacco sting failure, certification could mean the difference between staying in business and having to close the store, NYACS said in a statement.

    The health department did give the industry a grace period, recognizing that initially, assessing the full two points would be unfair, since the retailer would not have had access to the training needed to qualify for the one-point reduction. On an interim basis, the state agreed to treat any new conviction as one point rather than two, regardless of training. But now, eight months later, they're flipping the switch to the full two-point penalty.

    On June 12 -- the same day the state notified NYACS and FIANYS that their joint application to provide certified tobacco sales training had finally been approved -- it announced the 2-point penalty would become effective June 28. "It was like saying congratulations, you have 11 business days to train every employee of every store from Buffalo to Binghamton and from Massena to Montauk, in the midst of their peak sales season," said NYACS President James Calvin, noting that there are 5,000 convenience stores in New York State among more than 30,000 establishments licensed to sell tobacco.

    Unable to persuade health department bureaucrats to allow more time, NYACS and FIANYS are rushing to schedule as many training sessions as possible, as soon as possible, to allow stores to benefit from the added license protection certification provides. The following July workshops have already been announced, and more are being scheduled.

    * July 8, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Rockville Centre
    * July 9, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Poughkeepsie
    * July 10, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Syracuse
    * July 10, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., Syracuse
    * July 22, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Buffalo
    * July 22, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., Buffalo
    * July 23, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Albany
    * July 24, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Rye Brook
    * July 29, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., Rochester
    * July 29, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., Rochester

    The NYACS/FIANYS workshop, which uses major elements of the We Card program, will cover proper sales of both tobacco products and alcoholic beverages. NYACS and FIANYS have obtained certification for the tobacco side of the training, and are pursuing State Liquor Authority certification, which would grant stores an affirmative defense against license action arising from underage beer sales.

    There is a registration fee of $50 per person, with members of NYACS and FIANYS receiving a discount of $25 per person. For more information, visit www.nyacs.org or call Jim Calvin at NYACS at 518-478-0560. To make reservations, call 888-872-4603.

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