By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray
State Representative Dr. Vernon G. Smith says some gas stations and convenience stores in Gary are violating Indiana state laws that prohibit businesses from selling loose cigarettes out of their packages. Smith said for years he has been trying to stop gas stations in Gary from engaging in the practice. He has also gone after businesses that fail to stop underage customers from purchasing cigarettes as required by state law.
Dr. Smith said he’s seen loose cigarettes being sold in at least three gas stations in Gary. “They are selling them at 2 for $1 when a pack is $5. That means they are doubling the price getting $10 out of them,” he said.
Dr. Smith has actually been in stores and witnessed sales taking place. “They won’t sell them to me because most places know who I am that I go in to get coffee. Sometimes they will shake their hands and hand it to them or they will tell the person to wait, take their money and hand them the cigarette out the window. Some that don’t know me will do it right in front of me and I’ve said something to them.”
The fine for selling loose cigarettes is $300, but Dr. Smith feels that the fine is too low because the sellers can make that money back. He said, “They figure they can make that money back and more by continuing to sell them. I don’t know now how many people come in on any given day to purchase loose cigarettes, but I’ve seen it done three times before I can get a cup of coffee. That shows how prevalent it is.”
Dr. Smith said he feels the fine should be $1,000 and he has discussed this in the House of the State Legislature. He said, “Not only do they sell the cigarettes but they do not card anyone to see if they are of age to purchase them. They are supposed to card anyone that looks under a certain age.” The legal age to purchase cigarettes is 21 in the state of Indiana.”
Dr. Smith said he does not see the selling of loose cigarettes anywhere else but in Gary. “These sellers of loose cigarettes know how much they can make off of this and it’s a profit for them. They only get caught one or two times a year and it’s worth it, just look at what they are making. I think they should take their licenses from them as well. The first time they get a fined, the second time they get a fine and the third time you take their license to sell cigarettes from them,” he said.
Dr. Smith said because this is a federal law he has wrote to the FBI asking them to do something about it. He said he did not receive a response. He said, “The Excise Police have indicated that they have tried over and over again but they don’t have enough people to control the problem in Gary because they have to be concerned about all of Northwest Indiana. My thought is if you raise the fine then you can hire more people.”
He added they the people who are purchasing these cigarettes do not know what quality of cigarettes they are getting. “There are packs of cigarettes that are $2 and they don’t even know what they are putting in those type of cigarettes,” he said.