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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2002

Ads point finger at 22 sellers of tobacco

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

They were the first to be publicly pointed out for allegedly selling cigarettes to minors yesterday, but business went on as usual, with perhaps a bit more humility.

"It won't happen again," said Shirley Gonzalez, the manager of Capital Market on North School Street, one of 22 businesses that were named in newspaper ads bought by the state Health Department yesterday. "The program is good. It's just unfortunate that the cashier who was working that day was very busy and forgot to check IDs."

Since 1996, the Health Department has been sending underage customers out every month throughout O'ahu and one Neighbor Island to try to buy cigarettes. Yesterday, the department's alcohol and drug abuse division kicked the program to a new level by publishing the names and addresses of the 22 businesses on O'ahu and Maui that were cited in December — as well as the 73 stores that passed the test.

The ads are designed to appear each month and were a surprise for many of the businesses that were listed. But none of them called either the Health Department's tobacco prevention and education program or alcohol and drug abuse division to complain.

"It's a little embarrassing," said John Chan, whose family owns the New Liberty Chop Suey Drive-In on North King Street. "But I guess it's the public's right to know about it."

Even Sam Slom, R-8th (Wai'alae Iki, Hawai'i Kai), who runs Small Business Hawaii, supported the ads as long as they are done fairly and without editorial bias, he said. "If people are violating laws, we want those people punished to the full extent of the law," Slom said. "Otherwise, it casts a negative reflection on those businesses that comply."

The Health Department ads include a telephone number that businesses can call to get another chance to pass a surprise inspection. Those that are cited face fines as high as $500 in District Court, said Elaine Wilson, chief of the alcohol and drug abuse division.

Out of 90 to 100 businesses that are inspected each month, all but about 22 percent pass, she said.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.