As a result of an undercover sting, three stores in Isla Vista had their tobacco retail licenses for 30 days Tuesday after they were caught selling tobacco products to minors.

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Dept. notified 13 tobacco retailers countywide Tuesday that their tobacco licenses will be suspended for selling tobacco to people under the age of 18. The Six-Pak Shop, SOS Liquor and Isla Vista Market all received notification of suspension, as well as the Goleta 7-11 and Rite Aid on the 7000 block of Hollister Avenue, Glen Annie Mobil Station, Goleta Unocal and Oriental Market & Liquor.

The suspensions are a result of a law passed by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in March 2002 that requires businesses that sell tobacco products to obtain an annual license and obey all tobacco-related laws. This law originally only affected businesses in unincorporated areas of the county, but Goleta adopted the law when it became a city in 2002.

“The intention of the law is to establish accountability so it’s not easy for kids to just walk into a store and buy cigarettes,” Health Dept. representative Dawn Dunn said. “The numbers are higher than we’d like to see.”

Under the law, the Sheriff’s Dept. and the Public Health Dept. conducted sting operations in 100 stores in June 2003. Of the stores visited, 29 clerks were cited for selling tobacco to minors. Those stores were then notified that if a similar violation occurred within the next two years, their tobacco license would be suspended for 30 days. A second series of stings was conducted in June 2004, which resulted in the current suspensions.

Sheriff’s Dept. representative Sgt. Chris Pappas said the department employed civilian decoys under the age of 18 to attempt to buy tobacco products. If a decoy was successful, the clerk was contacted and cited.

“We want to make sure businesses are aware that they are responsible to attain a person’s age,” Pappas said. “There is also a provision for education so the clerks know how to tell someone’s age and are aware that the enforcement is out there.”

Primo, who refused to give his last name, owns the Six-Pak Shop on Pardall Road. He said as a storeowner in Isla Vista, he focuses most of his efforts on preventing alcohol violations.

“It started last year when we got busted the first time. This year, on June 26, we had another,” Primo said. “We didn’t pay much attention to [tobacco violations]. We’ve been without an alcohol violation for 14 or 15 years.”

Primo said a substantial proportion of his profit comes from the sale of tobacco products.

“I can’t figure what percentage of my business is lost, but it’s a big one. Thirty days, you know?” Primo said. “I think we have to stop selling tobacco in about 15 days. We’ll get another notice or something.”

Rami Barakat, the owner of SOS Liquor said he does not think the suspension notice will actually affect his business because the violation occurred under a previous owner. The owner of Isla Vista Market declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.
– Staff Writer Cory Anthony contributed to this story