A CITY shopkeeper pleaded with a judge not to impose a lengthy restriction on the sale of tobacco at her premises as it could put the business and nine jobs in jeopardy.
It followed a sting operation by the HSE in which a 14-year-old volunteer shopper was sold a packet of cigarettes at Monaleen Stores on July 2 last.
Catherine Noone, proprietor, and Pawel Grabarezyk, the member of staff who conducted the sale, both pleaded guilty at Limerick District Court to selling tobacco to a minor on that date.
Mairead Looby, an environmental health officer with the HSE, said she had been followed into the shop by the volunteer minor at 2.50pm and saw her ask for a pack of 20 Silk Cut.
“The sales assistant didn’t ask for her age or for ID only whether she wanted Silk Cut silver or blue,” Ms Looby told Judge Aeneas McCarthy.
The 14-year-old girl who was successful in buying tobacco was “representative of someone of her age”, Ms Looby said.
The HSE official said a colleague of hers had gone into the shop after the sale had been transacted and spoke to both Mr Grabarezyk and Ms Noone, with the former saying he thought the girl was 18 and Ms Noone saying that all staff had been trained on policy regarding the sale of tobacco products to minors.
Ms Noone told the court that for every tobacco sale, a message came up on the till which reminded sales staff of the regulations on age.
“He did not realise that this person was likely to be under 18. Had he thought there was a question over her age, he would have asked her for ID,” Ms Noone said.
“I saw her on the day on CCTV and I thought it was dubious. I could see why the staff member was unsure,” she added.
Ms Looby replied that a straw poll of five people had been undertaken on the volunteer minor which had “placed her at between 14 and 16 years of age” and a photograph of the girl in question was handed in to Judge McCarthy.
“I am very embarrassed to be in court today. We have never been in trouble in 30 years of business and we are very aware of the law on this,” Ms Noone said.
Kevin Sherry, solicitor for the HSE, told Judge McCarthy that the maximum penalties for such an offence were a fine of €3,000 and/or three months in prison and a mandatory removal from the register of tobacco sellers for up to three months.
Ms Noone said that “if the sale of tobacco goes, it would have the most severe impact on a shop that turns over €25,000 a week and nine jobs go. It’s as simple as that”.
“I’m sorry,” said Judge McCarthy, “but I have no discretion over whether or not (the sale of tobacco is restricted), I only have discretion over the length of time”.
“Can you make it of a time that wouldn’t cause the business to fail or close,” Ms Noone asked.
Judge McCarthy said he had to give credit for the fact that there was no previous convictions and Ms Noone and Mr Grabarezyk were each fined €200. Monaleen Stores was temporarily put off the register to tobacco sellers for two days, concluding on Monday of this week.