ALE arrests five in Hertford County

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2005

ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) apparently is very serious when it comes to the sale of tobacco products to underage youth.

That fact was evident during the month of April where a pair of ALE agents checked 21 retail establishments in Hertford County and arrested five store clerks for illegal tobacco sales.

Those arrested were Charles Lassiter (an employee with the Ahoskie Food Center), Jacob Ruffin (Ruffin Brothers, Murfreesboro), Brian Landry (CVS Pharmacy, Murfreesboro), Sierra Smith (Duck Thru #4, Cofield) and Tonya Poindexter (Tar Landing Grill and Grocery, Harrellsville).

As part of a statewide Tobacco Compliance Check Campaign, ALE agents issued a criminal citation to each of the store clerks who were allegedly in violation of the law by selling cigars, cigarettes, snuff or bulk tobacco to customers who were younger than 18.

According to a spokesperson with the ALE Division office in Point Harbor, the citations are listed as misdemeanors. Fines vary in these cases, ranging from a prayer for judgment to performing community service.

Meanwhile, the ALE Division office praised 16 Hertford County businesses for following the law. Clerks at those businesses checked the identification of the undercover agent and refused to sell due to underage restrictions. Those businesses are as follows:

Tim’s Convenience Store (Ahoskie), Brinkley’s Grocery (Ahoskie), Duck Thru #10 (Ahoskie), Trade Mart #22 (Ahoskie), Red Apple #8 (Ahoskie), Duck Thru #12 (Ahoskie), Red Apple #23 (Ahoskie), Trade Mart #23 (Murfreesboro), Red Apple #2 (Murfreesboro) and Duck Thru Mini Mart (Murfreesboro).

Also within compliance were Lowes Foods (Murfreesboro), Food Lion (Murfreesboro), Duck Thru #18 (Winton), Red Apple #2 (Winton), Butcher Block (Cofield) and Red Apple (Harrellsville).

The Point Harbor ALE Division office covers an area from Halifax and Edgecombe counties eastward to the Outer Banks.

&uot;Because of these periodic checks, tobacco sales to minors have dropped in North Carolina from 50 percent to 15 percent since the start of the campaign three years ago,&uot; said ALE Director Mike Robertson.

&uot;Retail outlets are taking these compliance checks more seriously and are doing a better job of training their store clerks to ensure they are complying with state tobacco laws.&uot;

A store clerk can quickly identify an under-aged person by the color of his or her driver’s license.

A red border means the customer is under 18 years of age and is prohibited from purchasing alcohol and tobacco products.

Statistics show that more than 200,000 kids under the age of 18 will die prematurely from smoking; 90 percent of adult smokers in North Carolina began using cigarettes before age 18; and the average age that people start smoking is 13.

Tobacco use has long been called a gateway drug and experts say the escalation from the use of tobacco products to other drugs increases the likelihood of a young person’s activity with theft or other criminal activities.

ALE’s Tobacco Education and Compliance Check Program is conducted in partnership with the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services and the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission. It is also a cooperative effort among community agencies, local law enforcement agencies, merchants, parents, and teens.

ALE has 76 agents across North Carolina who enforce alcohol and tobacco laws.