Two city stores charged with tobacco violation following sting operation

Two city stores charged with tobacco violation following sting operation

WOONSOCKET – Two city stores have been charged with selling a tobacco product to a minor following a sting operation by the Woonsocket Police Department working with a local teen.

The City Council determined on Monday that Walgreen’s at 45 Cumberland St. and Cumberland Farms at 2184 Mendon Rd. violated city ordinance and Rhode Island General Law by selling an e-cigarette to a person under 18. Both stores were issued a $500 fine and allowed to keep their tobacco licenses. It was the first known offense for both stores.

According to testimony offered by Det. Thomas Gormley, on March 27, a juvenile recruited to participate in the investigation entered the Walgreen’s store and attempted to purchase a tobacco product. The teen, a young woman who did not have an ID or any other tobacco products on her at the time, was successful in purchasing a product and, upon exiting the store, immediately turned it over to Gormley and his partner in the investigation, Det. David Wahl.

The young woman then identified the clerk to officers by nametag, and Gormley entered the store to speak with the clerk and store manager and issue a summons to appear in court. The clerk pleaded guilty to selling a tobacco product to a minor and was fined in municipal court.

According to additional testimony provided by Tamar Levy, the store manager, the tobacco product was an NJOY brand disposable e-cigarette. In response to questions from members of the council, Levy said that following the incident, the store followed company policy be reassigning training to all team members and issuing a final written warning to the employee who conducted the sale.

In the second violation, the same juvenile entered the Cumberland Farms store on the same day and was successful in purchasing another tobacco product. The young woman turned the product over to police officers, who then entered the store and issued a summons to appear in court. The product was returned and a refund given. The clerk pleaded guilty to selling a tobacco product to a minor and was fined in municipal court.

Store manager Kathy Signa said the product was an e-cigarette. Dave Valente, a representative of the store, reviewed the company’s ID training policy with council members and said all employees of the store and the chain’s other Woonsocket location received additional training after the incident. The clerk received a final warning for the violation.

“We are frustrated and very disappointed that there was a violation,” said Valente.

Mary Cimini, a coordinator for the Woonsocket Prevention Coalition, was among those who attended the hearing. The organization works with the Rhode Island Department of Health to recruit and train the teenagers who partner with police officers on the sting operations, which she said occur about twice each year. Cimini said the organization also conducts regular surveys and evaluations of the 40 to 42 stores in Woonsocket that sell tobacco products.

“Our goal is to keep tobacco out of the hands of younger people,” she told The Breeze following the hearing. “That is the ultimate goal.”

At the moment, one of the organization’s primary concerns is stemming the spread of e-cigarettes, like the two purchased during the sting operation. The cigarette alternatives are increasingly popular among high school teens and, according to Cimini, are often placed in front of or on top of store counters rather than behind counters with other tobacco products.

“Our biggest concern right now is Juuls,” she said, referring to the miniature e-cigarettes that resemble USB flash drives.

Cimini said the organization is actively looking to recruit teens to partner with them on their efforts to prevent tobacco use among young people. While e-cigarettes were originally popular predominantly among affluent communities, she said, their use has now spread to students of all backgrounds and present a serious concern for the organization.