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Using a state grant and a half-dozen youths ages 15 to 17, the Appleton Police Department will check more than 100 tobacco outlets next week to see if retailers are complying with laws banning tobacco sales to people under 18.
Police will check 107 outlets, including convenience stores, bars and liquor stores, and outlets with cigarette vending machines. The program, done under contract with the state Department of Health and Family Services, is aimed at cutting the supply of cigarettes to those under 18.
The penalties for a first offense of selling tobacco to a minor is $126. It increases to $151 for a second offense and $212 for third and subsequent offenses. Judges can suspend a retailer's tobacco license for violations.
The purpose is not to punish retailers by writing them $126 tickets for selling cigarettes to minors, Lt. Greg Goodavish, who coordinates the program for the department, told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "Our goal is to end the availability of tobacco products to kids under 18," he said. "If they don't have identification, don't sell."
Goodavish said the program is particularly important since an Appleton Area School District survey showed 38 percent of middle school and high school students smoke. It's a health issue that costs Wisconsin $1 billion a year in health and related costs, he said.
In the first six months of this year, Appleton officers wrote about 145 tickets to youths for underage possession or use of tobacco products, the report said.
Retailers are responsible and want to follow the law, said Jim Burke of Pioneer Distributing Co. of De Pere, Wis., which distributes tobacco products in Northeastern Wisconsin.
The state's $5,000 grant for the program will pay for officers' overtime, the wages of teens who have been hired and the cost of the tobacco products. The police department has hired six youths, two members of the Police Explorers group and four members of Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU), a high school group -- to work the stings.