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El Cajon considers tougher penalties for underage tobacco sales

Council to look at new rules in October
US cigarette smoking rate reaches new low
Posted at 11:42 AM, Aug 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-15 14:42:56-04

EL CAJON, Calif. (KGTV) - City leaders in El Cajon want to add harsher penalties to punish stores that sell tobacco products to underage customers.

Current law says stores cannot sell tobacco or nicotine related products to anyone under the age of 21.

Under El Cajon's current Tobacco Retail License statute, any store caught selling will face either a fine or a 30 days suspension of their license for the first offense.

A second offense brings a 90-day suspension. The third offense bumps that up to a year. If a store is caught selling to underage customers four times in five years, their license gets revoked.

But some city leaders feel that's not harsh enough.

"I think that they looked at the $1,000 fine and said that's just the cost of doing business," says City Councilman Gary Kendrick. "I think it's greed. These stores are profiting from the future suffering of our children, and I am going to stop it."

Kendrick wants to make the first offense a 90-day suspension and raise the fine. He also wants more enforcement.

The move comes after 15 stores got citations during enforcement stings during the spring. That's a big spike from previous years where as few as one store was cited.

Of the 15 stores cited, eight are filing appeals. Six paid the fine for the first offense, and one store took a 90-day suspension for a second offense.

"This is a huge problem," says Kendrick.

But store owners say more punitive penalties are not the solution.

"Is that going to solve the problem? I don't think so," says Isam Habib who owns the Ranch Liquor store on Washington Avenue.

"What can you do? When you have to hire employees in and out, and they're young, you train them, you teach them, and they make a mistake," he says.

Habib says store owners don't think they should lose a large chunk of their business for one mistake.

"We just gotta check the IDs," he says. "Make sure they're 21."

Kendrick says the City Council will look into the new rules during October.