Police Seek Funds for Tobacco Stings

An undercover police sting normally done to curb teen drinking in a Los Angeles suburb might be extended to help cut down on tobacco use among minors.

The Ontario Police Department has applied for a $50,000 grant from San Bernardino County to set up an undercover operation using high school and middle school students as decoys to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products from convenience stores, groceries and tobacco shops, according to the Los Angeles Times. Clerks violating the underage ordinance would be cited and face fines up to $1,000.

The department investigates illegal tobacco sales when a complaint is filed and sends in teens undercover to buy tobacco products. In the past year, two of five stores where the undercover stings took place sold tobacco to the youths, who are known as Explorer Scouts, the report said.

John Duffield, a community policing officer, said grocery chains where employees are trained better tend not to have problems of selling tobacco products to minors. Liquor stores and small neighborhood stores generate most of the complaints.

"But what often happens is the merchants sell off their properties and you never know who the new owners are. They change clerks all of the time and that can lead to problems," Duffield said.

Ontario's proposal also suggests spending money to educate students about the dangers of smoking and store clerks about tobacco laws. The city is considering taking the anti-smoking program to billboards, public service announcements on cable television and closed-circuit televisions at airports and malls.
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