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Sting curbs sales to minors

Profile image for By Megan Gray / Staff Writer
By Megan Gray / Staff Writer

Police utilize grant for operation to crack down on underage tobacco use

When the teenager asks for a pack of cigarettes, the cashier replies with a question of his own.

“Can I see your ID?” he asks.

A 16-year-old girl has just been denied a pack of cigarettes because she has no ID, and that’s just what Denton police were looking for while conducting a mini tobacco sting operation on a recent Friday night.

“When they ask for an ID, it’s good — that means they are abiding by the law,” said Capt. Lenn Carter.

Carter, who has been with the department for nearly 20 years, said the mini sting conducted Friday was funded by a grant the department obtained last August from the Texas Comptroller’s office.

The police department has been participating in the Texas Comptroller’s Tobacco Enforcement Program since the late 1990s. The $9,000 grant pays for officer overtime, the teenage decoys and materials associated with the stings.

The grant lasts for a year, and during that time, the department has to conduct 120 stings — each stop made counts as a sting.

Carter said two to three operations are conducted a month and stores that allegedly sell to minors are often repeat offenders.

A store employee who allegedly sells to a minor is cited for tobacco sale to a minor, police said. This violation is a Class C misdemeanor with a possible fine of up to $500.

“I’ve been working these off and on since 2008 and they have changed over the years,” he said. “They used to be more about education, which is what I am all for.”

Education, Carter said, is essential.

“The real key is to train their employees to ask,” he said. “If they haven’t been educated to ask for a card [ID] they don’t know.”

Four stops later, the police still hadn’t recorded a sale, but they did observe two men in a vehicle smoking K-2, an illegal substance not intended for recreational use. The driver of the vehicle was cited for possession of drug paraphernalia.

“We do see other things when we are out, just like tonight,” Carter said.

“Last time, nearly every stop someone sold to me,” said the decoy, whose identity is not released.

Violations have decreased to an average of about one out of every eight inspections since earlier this year, police said.

Cleo Birckbichler, an officer with the Denton police for 18 years, said the decrease in sales must mean police have made an impression on the stores they hit.

“Once they deny them a sale, they have done what they are supposed to do; we will not have them [the decoys] beg for a pack,” she said.

Carter said the word must be getting out.

“They are surprised when I walk in behind the decoy after not selling and congratulate them for doing the right thing,” he said. “Just that they know we are out there watching, it’s a good thing.”