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By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000
TAMPA -- Wearing bright orange T-shirts that read SWAT, for Students Working Against Tobacco, rows of teenagers crowed the County Commission chambers Wednesday hoping to hammer home a single message:
Keep cigarettes a few feet beyond the reach of children, andthey probably won't reach for them as adults.
The teens were there supporting an ordinance that will make it tougher for kids to buy or steal cigarettes from stores. The ordinance, which the commission passed, essentially requires stores to put cigarette displays behind the counter, which forces customers to ask a clerk for help when buying cigarettes.
It also forbids tobacco ads from being within 2 feet of candy or snacks, or from being less than 4 feet from the floor, which is eye-level for children.
Among several who opposed the ordinance was Rick McAllister, the president and CEO of the Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association.
He said it has cost $10,000 to $15,000 on average for stores to comply with such laws.
Standing before the commission, 15-year-old Jacob Baime disputed the $10,000 to $15,000 figureand said that only applied to big chains.
"I think it's outrageous to give that number," said Baime, a SWAT member.
"What is so hard about asking for your cigarettes?" Baime asked the commission. He suggested SWAT volunteers would help convenience stores make the changes.
"All it would mean is taking one or two displays and moving them behind the counter, and that simple act would protect thousands of youths," Baime said.
In voting to pass the ordinance, the commission said it should go into effect June 1, 2001.
Commissioners suggested they might consider amending it before then to make allowances for small convenience stores short on the space needed to comply with the ordinance.