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Only two of 25 clerks tested sell cigarettes to minors

April 19, 2011

The vast majority of Tosa's 25 tobacco-selling businesses passed a recent under-age sales check with flying colors; however, two clerks sold cigarettes to the police-supervised minors after checking their IDs because they figured the youths' ages wrong.

The Wauwatosa Police Department works with volunteer minors to check whether retailers are enforcing law that only people 18 and older can buy tobacco products.

According to department records:

A clerk at Pick 'n Save on State Street sold cigarettes to the minors

A 21-year-old clerk at Pick 'n Save on State Street looked at the IDs of two Wauwatosa East High School students, ages 16 and 17, then sold them cigarettes. The teens immediately reported the sale to an officer at the scene.

The clerk tried to blame the boys for showing a false ID that made them appear older, but the officer pointed out that if she had followed the company's policy of verifying the birth date on the license in the computer system, it would have shown her she had done the math wrong in her head. She was cited for selling tobacco to underage people.

A clerk at another Tosa business, Famous Cigar, 7030 W. North Ave., received a warning after she nearly let the boys leave the property with cigarettes. The 62-year-old woman had looked at their IDs and even spotted them 50 cents because they didn't have enough money to buy a pack. As they returned to the patrol car, she came running out after them, yelling.

She realized as they walked out that she had figured their ages incorrectly. She told the officer she had planned to take back the cigarettes and refund their money.

The officer chose not to cite the clerk but said any future problems during compliance checks would result in a ticket.

A team of officers and five student volunteers participated in the compliance checks this March.

"The volunteers were asked to attempt to purchase a tobacco product from the shelf or from behind the counter," officer Jeff Griffin explained.

Each student had identification, and they were instructed to show their ID upon request. The checks, which happen two to four times per year at businesses that sell tobacco and alcohol, determine whether sellers verify ages and deny sales to underage customers.

"In no way was trickery or confusion a part of the compliance check," Griffin said.

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