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Senator out to stiffen penalties for youths who use fake IDs to buy tobacco

A Republican senator is looking to stiffen penalties for youths trying to use fake identification to buy tobacco products.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, would upgrade buying tobacco products from a petty offense to a Class 3 misdemeanor if the buyer uses a fake ID, taking the fine from a maximum of $300 to a maximum of $500 with a possible 30 days jail time.

Several lobbyists said that the punishment when children illegally purchase tobacco products usually falls on businesses for accepting the false IDs. Retailers can face fines up to $1,000 if they’re caught selling to underage customers.

“If a minor has gone to the extent to get a fake ID, then they know they shouldn’t be buying tobacco,” said Michelle Ahlmer, president of the Arizona Retailers Association. “For a long time, it’s been the clerk who’s subject to penalties for selling to a minor, and that isn’t fair.”

SB 1086, under consideration by the Committee on Commerce and Energy, also would ban tobacco wraps that are used to roll cigars. Those so-called blunt wraps are commonly used to roll marijuana cigarettes.

The move to increase fines for minors would level the playing field in an age when fake IDs have gotten more sophisticated and clerks can’t always pick them out, Ahlmer said.

Norman Moore, a lobbyist for tobacco manufacturer Reynolds American and the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association, said both groups have an interest in preventing tobacco sales to minors.

While a minor buying alcohol with a fake ID in Arizona faces a Class 1 misdemeanor that includes a hefty fine and possible jail time, there’s no such matching law for tobacco products.

“This enhanced penalty for a minor would continue to increase the ability of law enforcement to go after and protect youth,” Moore said.

A 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tobacco report found that 10.6 percent of Arizona youths age 12 to 17 smoke, compared to the 10.1 percent national average.

“Because Arizona is still above the national average, we have some other work to do,” Moore said, adding that the only job loss associated with introducing the penalties would be to the people or businesses supplying children with fake IDs.

Michael Kinnaird, 46, the owner of 70′s Shop and Hookah Lounge in Phoenix, said he regularly turns away minors using fake IDs. At least five times a day, he said, youths try to be served without having any ID.

“They try to catch you when you’re busy thinking you won’t check,” Kinnaird said. “I’m not going to risk my business over a $10 sale.”

Fake IDs have become more sophisticated, and it can be difficult for employees to tell, he said. In some cases, Kinnaird didn’t realize customers’ IDs were fake until years later when they got real ones.

“I don’t want to be penalized for some kid bringing in a fake ID when I can’t even tell,” Kinnaird said, adding that the bill would be an improvement for small businesses in Arizona.

The bill was put on hold Tuesday so legislators could meet with stakeholders about the second portion of the bill dealing with blunt wraps. Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, chairman of the Commerce and Energy Committee, moved to strike that portion of the bill.

Tobacco industry lobbyists argued that the bill would ban a legitimate product used to roll cigars. Lobbyists for cigar associations pushed for the bill, saying the wraps are imposters in the cigar business.

“This bill is going to go forward no matter what, but the cigar people are going to have to come to some agreement or their portion will be taken out,” Reagan said.

Current penalties for businesses, minors:

• Minors: Petty offense, up to a $300 fine.

• Businesses: Up to a $1,000 fine.

Under SB 1086:

• Minors: Class 3 misdemeanor, up to a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

• Businesses: Up to a $1,000 fine.

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