PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Santa Monica police have cited 12 people for selling tobacco to minors in recent months, the result of an operation on unscrupulous stores that fail to check IDs before making cigarette sales.

Following the City Council’s adoption in 2008 of an ordinance aimed at keeping closer watch over stores that sell tobacco, each of the 122 businesses in Santa Monica that carry tobacco products have had to pay $145 for a special license, which they must renew each year. The new rule took effect last July and has given police extra funding to enforce tobacco laws — especially the ban on selling tobacco to minors.

Because of the new funding, in the past several months SMPD’s vice unit has investigated tobacco dealers citywide, enlisting the help of its teenage Explorers — members of a volunteer group affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America — to get the job done.

“This is the most concerted effort that the city has undertaken to enforce the underage smoking law,” said Adam Radinsky, head of the consumer protection unit in the City Attorney’s Office.

According to Sgt. Jay Trisler, a spokesman for the SMPD, Explorers who participated in the investigation were required to look their age and weren’t allowed to deceive merchants when trying to make tobacco purchases under police supervision.

So far, the undercover operation has netted three convictions, with nine cases pending.

A misdemeanor conviction for selling tobacco to a minor can result in a fine of $800, once court fees are added on, Radinsky said.

Under the law, only the sales person who fails to check ID before making a tobacco sale to a minor is at fault, not necessarily the company where the person works, he added. But City Hall can suspend a business’s tobacco-selling license for up to 30 days as the result of an employee’s conviction for an illegal tobacco sale.

The three stores in Santa Monica where employees have been convicted in recent months are: The Shack on Wilshire Boulevard, Surf Liquor on Main Street and Sunset Plaza Liquor on Pico Boulevard.

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