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    Underage Tobacco Program Launched in Pennsylvania

    Police in Spring Garden Township to cite businesses selling products to teens.

    YORK CITY, Pa. -- Police in Spring Garden Township will be working with the city of York to cut down on tobacco sales to minors.

    The police department has signed its second annual agreement with the York City Bureau of Health so it can participate in a tobacco control program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, reported the York (Pa.) Dispatch.

    Using money from the state's tobacco settlement fund, the program reimburses law enforcement agencies for the cost of making sure local businesses are not selling tobacco products to minors. It is illegal in Pennsylvania to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. Businesses or individuals who do so can face citations or fines.

    Through this program, police officers monitor volunteers under the age of 18, such as Boy Scouts, who are asked to enter area businesses and attempt to purchase cigarettes or chewing tobacco. If the sale is successful, the uniformed officer who has been waiting outside the store issues a citation to either the business or the clerk.

    To receive funds from the state, police departments must make two rounds of compliance checks in a six-month period. In addition, violators must be cited.

    Sgt. Robert Lehman of the Spring Garden Township Police Department said his township has already completed a trial run of the program, which was not state funded. Officers told business owners about the program after the minors successfully purchased tobacco products. Ten of the township's 16 businesses had failed to comply but were not issued citations at that time.

    Lehman said the police officers alerted the 16 businesses that routine compliance checks would be done, and fines and citations would be issued. In March 2002, the police department conducted its first round of state-funded compliance checks; only one business out of the 16 was cited.

    Lehman said the program has cut down on non-compliance drastically. In 2003, three sets of compliance checks were performed, with a total of 42 attempts by minors to purchase tobacco. Of the 42 attempts, there were only five violations.

    The compliance checks have raised local businesses' awareness of the law, Lehman said. Several area businesses have a separate underage compliance check through a convenience store association, and managers are providing more training on the law and compliance to employees.

    Several area Rutter's Farm Stores have installed MinorChecker systems, a machine that reads information from driver's license bar codes, to prevent minors from using falsified identification to purchase tobacco.

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