Two local lawmakers want to increase the penalties establishments face for selling tobacco products to minors.
Rep. Ralph DLG Torres and Rep. Raymond D. Palacios authored House Bill 16-238, which increases the fines for each offense.
Under the proposed legislation, if a retailer is found to give, sell or permits to give or sell any tobacco product to someone under the age of 18, the establishment will be assessed a fine of $1,000; imprisonment of not more than one year; and not more than 250 hours of community service for the first offense. Previously, businesses received a warning letter for the first offense.
For a second offense, an establishment will incur a fine of $2,000; imprisonment of not more than two years; and not more than 350 hours of community service. Under current law, businesses are fined a maximum of $500 for a second offense.
The third offense under the bill would be increased from a seven-day license suspension to a one-year suspension of the business license; a fine of $5,000; and imprisonment of not more than five years.
The tobacco fines and fees collected will continue to be deposited into an account with 90 percent of the money allotted to the Department of Commerce, Division of Alcohol Beverage and Tobacco Control for enforcement purposes. The remaining 10 percent collected will go into the general fund.
The lawmakers note in the bill that most teenagers who smoke report purchasing their own tobacco.
“Enforcement programs can greatly reduce these sales of tobacco to minors. Fines from penalties of violators should be utilized to fund the enforcement programs as to continue to reprimand and punish those that sell tobacco products to minors,” the legislation states.
Also, many retailers continue to sell products to minors because the penalties under Public law 11-75 are not severe enough to stop businesses.