Stores fined for missing or incorrect tobacco warning signs
The city’s cigarette retailers were issued 2,229 violations in 2013 just for inaccurate or missing warning signs about who may not buy tobacco products, The Post has learned.
The ticket-writing blitz was a 70-fold increase over the meager 32 signage violations doled out by the Department of Consumer Affairs in 2011, and nearly four times the 628 fines issued by the agency in 2012.
The new numbers lend weight to howls from retailers that they were increasingly viewed as a revenue source under the prior administration — especially with fines for violations running $1,000 a pop.
“I think they have a quota system and the Department of Consumer Affairs is their collection agency,” fumed an angry 44-year-old deli owner in Ridgewood, Queens, who closed a separate store in Brooklyn after being slugged with cigarette fines.
“Small businesses are disappearing,” the owner added. “It is impossible to survive.”
The city requires its 9,350 cigarette retailers to post conspicuous signs reading: “Sale of cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, powdered tobacco, shisha or other tobacco products, herbal cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, rolling papers or smoking paraphernalia to persons under 18 years of age is prohibited by law.”
It specifies that the signs be printed “on a white card in red letters at least one-half inch in height.”
Vendors say they were caught off guard last year when sales of e-cigarettes to minors were prohibited starting Jan. 1, 2013 — making old signs that didn’t include the words “electronic cigarettes” out of compliance.
Obaid Al Haj, who operates the David Deli and Grocery on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, said he was slapped with a $1,000 fine because his sign was blocked by a candy display.
“It’s too much money,” he said. “I don’t make a lot of money. Business is slow. I’m closing the store in three months.”
The city said it has settled two-thirds of the violations for less than the maximum fine, and insists vendors are given plenty of warning.
“Before enforcing this new sign, [the] DCA notified all licensed cigarette retailers and issued warnings for several months,” said department spokeswoman Abigail Lootens.
As public advocate and a candidate for mayor, Bill de Blasio railed against the city’s overfining of small businesses, and promised to end their status as a cash cow.