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L.A. retailers that sell tobacco to kids under 18 risk stiffer penalties

L.A. retailers that sell tobacco to kids under 18 risk stiffer penalties
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said the stronger penalties could help prevent up to 1,200 Los Angeles minors from becoming addicted to nicotine annually. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

Aiming to keep more teens away from tobacco, Los Angeles city lawmakers voted unanimously Tuesday to beef up the penalties for businesses that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors.

L.A. Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said the stronger penalties could dissuade businesses from taking the risk of selling to teens and help prevent up to 1,200 Los Angeles minors from becoming addicted to nicotine annually.

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In the past, a tobacco retailer would have gotten only a letter of reprimand the first time caught selling cigarettes or other tobacco products to someone under 18.

Now, retailers will face an immediate 30-day suspension of their tobacco permit -- the first in an escalating series of suspensions. Tobacco retailers who violate the rules four times within five years could end up losing their tobacco permits.

The stiffer penalties would also apply to any other criminal violation tied to selling tobacco under federal, state or local law, as well as allowing indoor smoking in an enclosed workplace in violation of state labor law, according to city lawyers.

O'Farrell said the California Department of Public Health had found that Los Angeles tobacco retailers had been spotted selling their products to minors at a much higher rate than the state average -- 24% according to one study.

"This will go a long way in reducing those numbers for Los Angeles youth," O'Farrell said at a city Council meeting Tuesday.

Follow @latimesemily for what's happening at Los Angeles City Hall.

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