100 Arizonian teenagers between the ages of 14 to 17 are going undercover to help discover retailers that are selling tobacco to minors. This thanks to the program ‘Operation Counter Strike’ created by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
An unidentified 17-year old says that she has been participating in the program for two years. She says during an investigation, agents will wait for her outside and tell her what to try to purchase inside.
“If they say no to you, you just go straight back out to the car,” she said, referring to the store clerks. “But if you end up getting a buy, you take it back to the car and give it to the agent. And then they’ll go and talk to them.”
She did not believe she would ever be sold a tobacco product while conducting an inspection, but she was wrong.
“I didn’t think I was going to get any, to be honest, when I first started,” she said. “But I’ve gotten 59 so far.”
She encourages friends and others her age to participate in the program as well.
“You even help out the employees realize their mistakes so that they never do it again,” she said.
Erika Mansur, Tobacco Enforcement Unit Attorney at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, describes the program as a way “to make sure that retailers are complying with the statewide prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to minors.”
If they are caught selling tobacco to minors, businesses can be fined up to $1,000 and clerks up to $300. If a business refuses the sale, agents notify them of the investigation and thank them for keeping tobacco out of the hands of children.
840 inspections have been done so far this year, with 14% resulting in violations of tobacco being sold to minors. This is up from the previous year, which was 10%.
“Unfortunately, the e-cigarette products have really caused all these numbers to go up,” Mansur said. “In the last year is when we’ve seen the biggest spike.”
Vaping has become an epidemic in the U.S. and is slowly but surely contributing to tobacco usage by young individuals.
Click here to learn more about Operation Counter Strike.