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    Retailers Fight Underage Tobacco Sales

    "We Card" training sessions scheduled throughout Washington State.

    Facing new state laws and increased penalties for selling tobacco products to minors, convenience store retailers in Washington are teaming up with multiple state associations to sponsor "We Card" tobacco training.

    Washington State actually has one of the best compliance rates in the country -- over 90 per cent statewide. Still, retailers here are taking extra measures to make sure their employees comply with the law.

    The state's leading retail trade organizations have joined together under the banner of the "Washington Coalition for Responsible Tobacco Retailing" to sponsor a series of free seminars to be held in Seattle, Bellingham, Vancouver, Yakima and Spokane next week.

    The training sessions are part of the nationwide We Card program run by the Coalition for Responsible Tobacco Retailing which is comprised of 21 trade associations involved in the manufacturing, sales and distribution of tobacco products.

    The program offers free in-store training materials, including a video and employee training guide along with prominent signage and countertop materials that promote awareness of and compliance with the law.

    The yellow, red and black ("Under 18 No Tobacco--We Card") signs and materials have, over the past several years, become so familiar in retail that "many people assume it's some sort of government program," said T.K. Bentler, executive director of the Washington Association of Neighborhood Stores, which helps sponsor the We Card training.

    The free seminars, conducted by professional trainers in an interactive format, covers the critical elements of an effective underage sales prevention program, such as state-specific minimum-age laws and penalties, how to spot fake ID's and how to handle difficult situations that sometimes arise in refusing a sale.

    "There's an ingrained culture of 'the customer is always right' in the retail industry, and employees may even be intimidated when it comes to a questionable sale of age-restricted products," Bentler said. "The We Card program trains them in the techniques of courteous, but firm, refusals and gives them the confidence to handle attempted buys effectively."

    For more information and for seminar reservations, Washington retailers are should call (888) 872-4603. The seminars are sponsored by the Washington Association of Neighborhood Stores; Washington Oil Marketers Association, and the Washington State Food Industry Association.

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