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U.S. Measure Would Curb Sales of Pagers to Minors

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U.S. Representative Kweisi Mfume of Maryland said last week that he would introduce legislation in the Congress to combat the drug trade by restricting the sale of electronic pagers to teenagers.

"An increasing number of young people engaged in the sale and distribution of drugs are using beepers to make deals by communicating with drug traffickers," the Democratic Representative said. "This bill is not intended to interfere with legitimate uses of beepers, only their abuse by drug-dealing minors."

Mr. Mfume said his measure would direct the Federal Communications Commission to ban the sale of electronic pagers to minors who have criminal records, lack parental permission to own pagers, or are not required to use the devices as part of their jobs.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has proposed similar legislation, which would require criminal-background checks and a two-week waiting period for persons under 21 seeking to buy pagers.

"Drugs are doing to us what the Ku Klux Klan could never do--destroy our families," Benjamin L. Hooks, the n.a.a.c.p.'s executive director, said at a press conference held jointly with Mr. Mfume in Baltimore.

Mr. Mfume has encouraged the $2-billion-a-year electronic-pager industry to aid in the drafting of his bill. But Michael Vernetti, vice president of Telocator, an industry trade association, said the group could not support legislation restricting the sale of the devices to minors.

Mr. Vernetti said many teenagers wear beepers as "a reverse status symbol" to give their peers the false impression they are drug dealers. He estimated that drug dealers represent only 0.1 percent of all beeper users.

Mr. Vernetti said Mr. Mfume's bill would be unfair to children who need pagers for valid medical reasons, and to young people who work in service trades that use the devices.

He also said it was "naive" to assume that drug dealers would not be able to circumvent the law and buy pagers for their young distributors.--ps

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