ROCKVILLE – If the newest county tobacco bill is passed, local businesses could see their fines rise if they’re caught selling tobacco to minors.
According to the bill county businesses that sell tobacco to minors may see fines rise from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense.
Subsequent offenses could range from $750 to $1,000 under the council’s proposed bill.
Maryland law does not allow the fine to exceed $1,000. There is no limit on how many times a business can be fined, Council member Craig Rice (D-D2) said.
Rice, a sponsor of the bill, said the penalties have increased to make the bill “stiffer” and discourage businesses from thinking about profit over the public interest.
“We pass these laws to try and make sure we are protecting the public,” Rice said.
Aleum Rik, a shift leader for a Rockville Walgreens, said employees always ID someone who intends to buy tobacco.
“Our Walgreens policy is no ID, they refuse to sell,” Rik said.
Rik said employees scan the bar codes on the IDs, as well.
“It doesn’t outlaw distribution to minors because it’s already illegal, said Robert Drummer, senior legislative attorney.
According to the County’s Department of Liquor Control’s Underage Tobacco Enforcement Statistics as of July 1, out of 350 locations inspected, 49 places were in violation, with an 86 percent compliance rate. In fiscal year 2015, the Maryland State Health Department gave a grant to the control board to fund tobacco enforcement.
In fiscal year 2014, 32 out of 200 places were found to have distributed tobacco to minors. In fiscal year 2013, 71 of 200 places were found to have sold tobacco to underage people. As far back as fiscal year 2007, 158 out of 1,252 places violated the law.
Lee Williams, investigator for Liquor Control, confirmed with Scott McFarland, NBC 4 News I-Team investigator, that one in five businesses is still selling to minors.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported 4.4 percent of minors between 12 and 17 smoked cigarettes in September 2014.
A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Rice said the hearing will be an opportunity for residents to give their thoughts about the increasing penalties.
“Selling to minors is concerning to me,” Rice said.