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Q&A: Michael F. Newman on cigarette sales in retail stores

Congress is considering legislation that would give the federal Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the sale of cigarettes in retail stores. Michael F. Newman, executive vice president of Noco Express Shops, discusses his industry's opposition to the legislative proposal.

>Q: On its face, this sounds like a good proposal. Why is your industry against federal oversight of the sale of cigarettes?

A: Our industry is not against increasing and stiffening the oversight of the sale of cigarettes; we believe current oversight by the states is more than sufficient. It is very difficult for the convenience store industry to be the front line of defense to stop underage youths from engaging in illegal practices such as using fake identifications to buy cigarettes. In New York, we would suggest the state pass legislation that 40 other states have passed making illegal purchase of cigarettes a crime.

>Q: One of the reasons for the proposal is the problem of the sale of cigarettes to minors; how much of an industry problem is this and has Noco ever been cited?

A: We have a full-time training director who is responsible for making sure our employees are following all of the guidelines to prevent the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to minors. Noco has even taken the initiative to establish a more stringent identification policy than the state mandates, which all employees must be trained in and follow. Furthermore, we have invested in technology -- Legal Age Software -- that assists our store employees to spot illegal or forged identifications. There have been a couple of incidents where Noco has been cited as a result of a "sting" operation by law enforcement authorities. We would prefer that the person who is using illegal means such as fake IDs to buy cigarettes be punished, rather than the retailer.

>Q: One provision of the legislation would be banning in-store advertising if such advertising can be seen from outside the store. Why are you opposed to this?

A: First, in-store advertising is very important to sales. Secondly, all of our stores are constructed so there is clear visibility from both the inside and the outside. We could not feasibly reconfigure all of our stores to eliminate these views. Finally and most importantly, our stores are configured in this manner because of employee safety as many convenience stores are open 24 hours a day. This is an unreasonable and impractical provision.

>Q: Currently, the states are responsible for the oversight of the sale of cigarettes. Are the states not doing a good enough job where Congress thinks it should step in?

A: The sale of cigarettes in convenience stores is already highly regulated by New York State. We strongly believe that state regulation is working; youth smoking and smoking in general have declined for several years. Why create a new federal bureaucracy that will only drive up costs for taxpayers when the state is already doing a very good job?

>Q: How would this legislation impact Native American retail operations that sell cigarettes?

A: If this legislation is passed, the law should be equally enforced not just on Native American retailers but also Internet retailers and adult entertainment facilities. The current legislation does not cover these business entities.

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