Originally created 03/01/97

Carding law gets mixed response from smokers and sellers



Life became a bit more tiresome for twentysomething smokers Friday.

And a whole lot tougher for underage teens.

But it was a 60-year-old cigarette buyer at the Sun Fresh Market in Kansas City, Mo. who finally exploded, berating a new cashier when she asked him for a photo ID.

Owner Robert Sanchez defended his employee.

"She was just doing her job," Sanchez said. "It's hard to judge age so as a general rule, I tell my cashiers to ask if the person looks under 40. We're safer that way."

Friday's new federal regulations require stores to ask for photo IDs from any customer who looks younger than 27. The goal is to crack down on teenage smoking, and penalties include $250 fines. In most states, the legal smoking age is 18.

We have "drawn a line where our children are concerned," President Clinton declared Friday. "From now on, in every store in America, our children will be told: No ID, no sale."

Some smokers were angry over what they saw as bureaucratic meddling.

"Government should be doing something more than just worrying about kids smoking cigarettes," scoffed truck driver Kurt Foster as he puffed away outside a gas station in Zebulon, N.C., close to the fields where tobacco is grown.

"Maybe they should be trying to stop people from robbing these convenience stores instead of stopping people from buying cigarettes."

"I kind of feel insulted because I am old enough to drink and smoke if I choose," 23-year-old Kim Balin said after being carded at a Boston convenience store where she bought a pack of cigarettes.

Around the country, retailers did their best to soothe harried customers. Many stores posted bold black signs detailing the new regulations. At a Wawa convenience store in downtown Philadelphia, employees wore buttons reading "You don't look a day over 26."

In Louisville, Ky., John Marbury started carding customers at his Stop and Shop market two weeks ago to ease them into the practice. But he said he feels "a little foolish" checking 27-year-olds. "They are adults," he said.

At a Chevron station in Richmond, Va., clerk Veronica Loney had no such qualms.

"I ask for an ID every time they come here," she said. "I have some get mad, some don't get mad. But I don't pay attention. I don't (want to) lose my job."

At least one customer was flattered by her request.

"I felt like a little kid starting all over again," chuckled 36-year-old Anthony "Cowboy" Harris. "This is the first time I've been carded for anything."

In August, more sweeping Food and Drug Administration rules take effect that ban most cigarette vending machines and curb tobacco advertising seen by teens. Next year, the agency also will ban tobacco brand-name sponsorship of sporting events. All the FDA regulations are being challenged in court by the tobacco industry.

In New York City, where signs atop taxis advertise everything from "Virginia Slims, It's a Woman's choice" to "Virginia Slime, It's a Cancer Choice," Omar Cabrera pondered the changes.

"I think it's great. Anything to get the kids off smoking," Cabrera, 34, said as he took a cigarette break outside the flower shop where he works.

Rod Weiner, a 27-year-old glass blower from Falmouth, Mass., said he wished the new rules had been enforced two decades ago.

"If someone had tried to beat me over the head about smoking when I was 16, I might not have started smoking at all," he said as he bought his cigarettes at a 7-Eleven.



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