Tennessee - steps up enforcement banning sale of single cigarettes..

September 27, 2009 - State officials are stepping up their enforcement of a law banning the sale of single cigarettes in Tennessee, a practice some say contributes to underage smoking.

Breaking up packs to sell individual cigarettes, or "loosies," is illegal in Tennessee and businesses can be fined up to $1,000 every time they sell loose cigarettes. Penalties are relatively rare, but state officials say that could change if stores don't start following the rules.

"We think it is important that tobacco retailers understand that selling single cigarettes is against the law. … We will prosecute those who ignore the law by continuing to sell single cigarettes after we've warned them not to do so," state Attorney General Bob Cooper said in a statement.

State officials say the sale of single cigarettes creates an easy outlet for young people to become smokers because they are so cheap. An individual cigarette sells for about 25 cents in some stores.

The problem seems to be on the rise — the number of complaints rose from six in 2007 to 16 in 2008. There were seven in the first six months of 2009. Over the past 18 months, the Tennessee Attorney General's office sent warning letters to 23 stores accused of selling individual smokes. Complaints against all those stores, most of which were in and around Nashville, had been filed with the state Department of Agriculture.

"In many cases, it is a lack of knowledge of the law," agriculture department spokesman Tom Womack said. Fines for the offense are rare; after a warning for the first violation, stores typically don't break the rule again, he said.

The Sunrise Citgo Market on John Merritt Boulevard received a warning about selling loosies after an inspection in June of 2008, according to state records. On Thursday, September 24th store clerk Joseph Ukadike said single cigarettes are not sold there. "We know it's illegal," he said. "People ask for them, but we don't sell them."

Reference: State targets single cigarette sales Stores warned to stamp out loosies By Clay Carey, THE TENNESSEAN,

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