A smoking ban made it harder this year for adults to smoke in public in Lawrence, but new data show it was easier for children to buy cigarettes in Douglas County than in many parts of the state.
According to figures released last week by the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, underage buyers were able to get tobacco at nearly three-fourths of stores checked -- 14 out of 19 -- during undercover visits earlier this year at Douglas County stores.
The state doesn't rank counties by their performance in the cigarette stings because in some counties the samples are too small for meaningful comparison.
But Douglas County's rate was one of the worst among large counties. In Johnson County, for example, 57 percent of stores sold to underage buyers, and in Shawnee County, just 26 percent sold.
A state official said Douglas County's numbers showed the need for more enforcement and education of tobacco laws.
"We want them to pay more attention. We want them to put greater emphasis on this, and we want underage people not to have access to tobacco products," said Jackson Armbrister, administrator of the program that checks stores.
The state recently upped the first-time fine for businesses that sell to underage buyers to $1,000 from $250. Individual clerks also can face criminal prosecution.
"Retailers do a pretty good job overall, but it's a little bit more complicated than saying 'Don't sell,'" Armbrister said. "When there are 14 people in line and everybody's busy, a lot of these clerks are younger, and they get rattled and make a sale when they shouldn't."
Melissa Padgett, manager at Third Planet, 846 Mass., said that's what happened when one of the agency's "underage cooperating individuals" came into the store this year to buy cigarettes. A store clerk asked for the child's ID but read the date wrong, she said.
"We card everybody," she said.
The store appealed and had its fine reduced to $250. But the clerk still faces a criminal charge and has been told she might go to jail if she doesn't pay $1,000, Padgett said.
She said she thought it was unrealistic for young people making minimum wage to accurately read every ID they saw.
In Franklin County, seven businesses of nine inspected sold to underage buyers. In Jefferson County, there were five inspections and no violations.
|These are the Douglas County stores cited for selling tobacco to minors in undercover buys during 2004, according to the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Stores have the right to appeal the fine, and this list does not reflect the case outcome.1. Chip's Riverside Mart, 454 N. Iowa2. Dillons, 3000 W. Sixth St.3. Dillons, 1740 Mass.4. Fast Lane, 1414 W. Sixth St.5. KU Bookstore, Burge Union6. Kwik Shop, 1714 W. 23rd St.7. Louisiana BP-Amoco, 23rd and Louisiana streets8. Presto Convenience, 1802 W. 23rd St.9. Presto Convenience, 602 W. Ninth St.10. Star Foodmart, 501 W. Ninth St.11. Swansea, 1801 W. Second St.12. Tobacco Express, 2104A W. 25th St.13. Walgreens, 400 W. 23rd St.14. Third Planet, 846 Mass.|