Cigarette Bust at Brats

By Nikki Woodworth

City Writer

Madison area bars may want to think about hiring bouncers to guard their cigarette machines, now that Madison Public Health officials have been making their annual rounds of “compliance checks” in order to test establishments that sell tobacco products.

According to John Hausbeck, an Environmental Epidemiologist for the city, compliance checks are conducted two times a year and involve sending an underage person into a bar who then attempts to purchase cigarettes.

“The state provides us with the authority to do compliance checks,” Hausbeck said. “We try to present the underage sale situation in a very natural way.”

Because some establishments sell tobacco products in vending machines that are not directly next to the bar, the underage buyer may not even come in contact with an employee of the establishment. According to manager Otto Dilba, this is what happened at the Angelic Brewing Company. Dilba was issued a citation for selling tobacco to a minor even though he had no idea that the sale had occurred.

“We weren’t adequately set up to sell cigarettes,” Dilba said. “Even though we were upset, we let it go once they gave us an alternative to the fine.”

Instead of paying the fine, Dilba was allowed to attend a tobacco-vender training class sponsored by the Madison Public Health Department.

State Street Brats was also recently issued a citation for selling tobacco to minors, but according to bartender Lisa Gabrielson, the way in which the citation was given was “a total set-up.”

“The girl came in and asked me for change [for] the vending machine. I gave her change and then a health inspector came in and told me I was getting a ticket,” Gabrielson said. “We sell aspirin and gum in our vending machine, too. She never said that she was going to buy cigarettes. I was really upset.”

Because it was State Street Brats’ second offense, the amount of the fine is $680. The first fine is $50. State Street Brats now turns their vending machine off before 9 p.m.

Earlier this week, an underage girl approached a bartender at the Plaza to buy cigarettes. Because the Plaza sells their cigarettes behind the bar, the bartender asked the girl for her ID. Five minutes later, a Madison Public Health official came and congratulated the bartender on passing the compliance check.

“They gave us a certificate of approval,” said owner Dean Hetue, “We almost got stung. We have never had a problem in the past.”

Although some bar owners may argue that these situations could be considered entrapment, UW law professor Donald Downs says there is too little government involvement for the situations to be considered as such.

“Generally speaking, decoys are not considered entrapment,” Downs said. “If the decoy went to the bartender crying and pleading, or maybe even trying to bribe them for cigarettes, at some point it could reach entrapment.”

Hausbeck suggested bars sell their cigarettes behind the counter or install remote control devices on their vending machines.

“It’s expected that the bartenders will take action,” Hausbeck said. “The person should have to go to the bartender to get access to the machine.”