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Licensing those who sell and serve alcoholic beverages may be a better way to prevent their sale to underage persons, some Cheektowaga merchants suggested Thursday.

More than 30 owners, managers and employees in businesses that serve and sell alcohol and tobacco products met with Lt. M. James Starr of the Cheektowaga police vice, gambling and narcotics units to discuss how the state's laws against sales to minors affect their businesses.

They also discussed how they can avoid being the targets of undercover operations using police decoys.

Last month, Cheektowaga police charged clerks at six French Road stores with selling cigarettes to an underage customer. Police also have used underage decoys to charge merchants with selling alcohol to underage persons.

Under state law a person must be 21 to purchase alcohol and 18 to buy tobacco, Starr told the seminar in the Alexander Community Center.

"It seems it only takes our decoys a few arrests to generate interest," said Starr, who pointed out that a previous seminar attracted only 16 businessmen. "This session is designed to teach you how to beat me when I go in."

Starr noted that in 1987, the state provided funds to enforce the laws, but no money to hold sessions with clerks and store owners.

A decoy operation the same year resulted in 66 arrests on sale of alcohol to minors in 168 businesses approached by underage decoys.

Merchants contend the decoy operations are unfair.

"A lot of this is put on the merchant," said one man who would not identify himself because he said he works for a franchise that discourages publicity.

"You can preach all you want, but they should come up with some kind of license -- the clerk should have some type of license. . . . It would be a way to say, 'Do you want your job?' "

And others said people who sell alcohol should be licensed so merchants would hire only those who have not been charged with selling alcohol to minors.

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