Student Project Targets Tobacco Counter Displays

Four Estancia High School students are seeking to snuff out self-service cigarette dispensers on the counters of liquor and convenience stores.

The teens, backed by local and national studies, contend that underage smokers frequently steal cigarettes from the counter. Also, they say, clerks do not always require identification when underage smokers serve themselves, rather than asking for a pack from behind the counter.

"Too many young people are stealing them and getting addicted," said Aivan Nguyen, 16. "We just want to make the community a better place."

Aivan is participating in a program called Speak Out! sponsored by Tustin-based Camp Fire Boys and Girls.

"We're just trying to get a lot of community support and make people aware of what we're doing," Aivan said. "We've just gone to a lot of PTA meetings, [a] school board meeting and we're talking to a lot of people and we hope they can support us."

Joining Nguyen are three classmates: Mehgan Fay, 15, Becca Silva, 16, and Eva Varma, 17.

Camp Fire adopted the project after participating in a 1997 Cal State Fullerton Social Sciences Research Center study that showed how easy it was for teens to buy cigarettes in some Costa Mesa convenience stores. Of 69 stores visited by undercover volunteers, 20 allegedly sold cigarettes to minors, the study said. It is against state law to sell cigarettes to anyone under 18.

Camp Fire followed up on the study by speaking to store owners and clerks. Now, the students are urging City Hall to take action.

This month, the teens urged the Costa Mesa City Council to enact a ban. The council asked its Advisory Committee of Teens to review the issue.

Banning counter displays would require a new ordinance and the city attorney's office still needs to research the matter to make sure it's possible, said Ann Shultz, assistant to the city manager.

Abraham Matta, who owns A & M Liquor on 19th Street, dislikes the proposal, saying the displays have nothing to do with sales to underage smokers: "If they are under 18 and it's on the counter, we can't sell it."

Matta also said store owners are paid by the tobacco companies to display the products.

The Advisory Committee of Teens meets Thursday at 6 p.m. in Conference Room 1-A at City Hall, 77 Fair Drive.

Information: (714) 754-5223.

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