The Bedford Board of Health on Monday fined a local variety store $1,000 for selling a tobacco product to a 17-year-old customer.
The board also suspended the tobacco sales permit of Northside Market and Liquors, 44 North Rd., for three days beginning Saturday.
These penalties are required under both state law and the Bedford Board of Health regulations. The local regulations also require removal of all tobacco products from the building during the suspension.
A statutory public hearing on the violation took place at Monday’s board meeting. No one from Northside attended.
According to Marisa Morello, former regional tobacco control inspector, the violation took place on June 19 during a standard compliance check.
Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services, outlined in a memorandum that standard practice is for the inspector to hire a “buyer” who is less than the legal purchase age of 21.
“The buyer was 17 years old and does not reside in Bedford,” Porter related. “The buyer specifically asked to purchase Zyn Chill, a thin white pouch that contains powered nicotine. The buyer was not asked by the store clerk for their ID, nor were they asked their age.”
According to Porter’s memorandum, a “buyer” is first required to complete an online training course. The person “must dress in regular clothing, not attempt to look older than they are, only allowed to bring in their cellphone and cash provided by the inspector, not allowed to lie, but may avoid answering a question…”
“The inspector instructs the buyer which specific product to purchase, provides the buyer with cash for the purchase, stays in the vehicle, watches the buyer walk into the store, and records information relayed by the buyer into an electronic database.”
Morello, who this month was named Bedford’s assistant health director, said that during educational and training sessions conducted by inspectors, retailers are advised that inspectors will be sending underage buyers. Porter said there were two “education visits” to Northside in early June to discuss state laws, local regulations, and compliance checks with youth buyers.
As an inspector, “It’s bad for me if there’s a sale because it looks like I am not educating them,” Morello said. She noted, “I provided a QR code to all retailers for free training, so they can educate themselves and their employees. We don’t want any sales.”
Porter told the Board of Health that under state and local regulations, there are no provisions for negotiations or mitigation of penalties. Indeed, she said, the store owner already has paid the fine.
She also noted in her memo that Northside has not had a tobacco sales violation for at least three years.