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    Teen Smokers Face Fines

    Pennsylvania bill approves tobacco penalties for minors, increases fines for retailers.

    HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Allegheny County's tough new law against selling tobacco to minors barely survived an attempt in the state House to snuff it out.

    Anti-smoking forces fought off an attempt to overturn current local tobacco ordinances as part of new statewide legislation aimed at curbing sales to minors. But the House did approve a provision that would prevent local governments from enacting such laws in the future, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

    After four hours of debate on dozens of amendments, the House yesterday passed a bill 142-39 imposing statewide penalties for the first time on minors who buy cigarettes and other tobacco products. The measure also would increase existing fines for merchants who sell tobacco to minors.

    State law currently imposes penalties on retailers who sell tobacco to those under age 18, but does not punish minors who purchase it. Under existing law, merchants who sell tobacco to minors face a fine of up to $25 for the first offense and a minimum $100 fine for subsequent offenses.

    Fines under the new bill would range from $100 to $500 for the first offense to $3,000 to $5,000 for four or more violations. The proposal does allow retailers to defend themselves when they can prove that they have informed their employees about the tobacco sales laws. Such a defense would be permitted for up to three violations within a two-year period.

    Under the bill, violations by minors would be considered summary offenses subject to a fine of up to $200, a 30-day suspension of driving privileges, 10 to 75 hours of community service and a requirement to complete a tobacco cessation program. The offenses would not be included on any criminal records, however.

    The measure now goes to the state Senate for consideration when it returns from a primary election recess on June 3.

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