Atty: State statutes don’t specify license suspensions for first offense
The ABC Cigar Store on Revere Street got a slight break on its penalty for selling tobacco to a minor in April at last week’s Board of Health meeting. The board recently implemented a new penalty and fine structure for businesses that violate the city’s tobacco policies, handing out a $1,000 fine and a three-day suspension for a first offense.
But the attorney for ABC Cigar argued that the three-day suspension for a first offense is not clear in the state statutes. He initially argued that while his client was willing to pay the $1,000 fine, the suspension was unwarranted and unduly affected ABC since it is a store that relies almost solely on tobacco sales. “You do have a responsibility to enforce the law, and this provision is serious, and the matter is serious, and we are not taking it lightly,” said Attorney Jarrod Hochman.
However, he stated that the state statutes do not specify any license suspensions for a first offense. “In addition to that, I think there is an equal protection argument that my client makes,” said Hochman. “My client is a tobacconist; that is their sole item for sale. It’s not a convenience store; it’s not a liquor store that sells cigarettes and has other items to sell.”
Hochman noted that ABC has been in business for nearly 50 years and is owned by a 90-year-old man.
“We will write the check to whoever it needs to be written to and move on, but you are actually closing this business for three days for a first offense in 49 years, when the [state law] does not require that, so I want you to follow the law.”
DJ Wilson, a public health liaison with the Massachusetts Municipal Association, stated that there is a section in the state statute which gives municipalities the ability to suspend a license for a first offense.
“I understand that this [is a] first offense that has a $1,000 fine and … a three-day suspension is obviously a lot,” said Dr. Drew Bunker, chair of the Board of Health. “But we do have to understand the gravity of what did happen, which was a tobacco product was given to a minor, and as a physician … when you introduce tobacco in a kid that young, it can be very detrimental in many ways and can lead to long-term addiction and things of that nature.”
Hochman asked if the three-day suspension was voted in as a consecutive three days, and Public Health Director Lauren Buck said it was not. Bunker said the board should look to revise the city’s ordinance to make the days consecutive, but the board did vote to allow ABC to serve its suspension on nonconsecutive days over a 60-day period.