The Westminster Police Department is cracking down on illegal tobacco product sales to minors, and educating the community in the process.
The department has been conducting a variety of enforcement operations and educational outreach aimed at reducing illegal sales and marketing of cigarettes and tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to minors, supported by a $253,000 grant from the California Department of Justice Tobacco Grant Program.
The funding is critical, not only for enforcing laws related to sales of tobacco products, but to educate the business community and the public as to the health-related consequences of tobacco use, particularly by minors, said Sgt. Anil Adam of the Traffic and Special Operations units.
“Educating the public and business communities is essential in providing quality public service,” said Adam, who oversees the grant. “The grant provides funding to allow the department to conduct these critical education and enforcement activities.”
The department is committed to conducting 12 operations during the grant period, Adam said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths per year and nearly nine out of 10 adults who smoke cigarettes daily first tried smoking by age 18.
“Nicotine use in minors is an important issue,” Adam said.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), of approximately 14,500 students who participated in 2020 nationwide survey, 23.6 percent of high school students and 6.7 percent of middle school students surveyed acknowledged using a tobacco product over the past 30 days.
Among the enforcement activities are “minor decoy” and “shoulder tap” operations.
In a minor decoy operation, an underage volunteer or police department employee enters a store and attempts to buy cigarettes. The clerk is expected to check the ID and refuse the sale after confirming the person is under 21, the minimum age required to purchase tobacco products in California.
In shoulder tap operations, the underage decoy stands outside of a tobacco retailer and asks customers to purchase cigarettes for them because they are not old enough to buy them. The customer is expected to refuse.
Enforcement operations also include conducting store inspections to ensure that tobacco is being purchased from a licensed wholesaler and that the retailer is licensed through the state, with proper warning signs in view.
“The vast majority of these interactions are in compliance with the law,” Adam said. “We, as a law enforcement agency, greatly appreciate this, as our goal is always voluntary compliance in lieu of enforcement.”
In-person education and proper signage is provided to retailers who are not in compliance, the sergeant said.
“When an establishment is found to be out of compliance, it automatically triggers a follow-up inspection,” he said. “We have encountered several retail establishments which were found to have violations and, as a result of our inspections, brought their businesses into compliance.”
Westminster Police Department maintains a zero-tolerance policy for tobacco sales to minors, Adam said, and has made several arrests for selling tobacco to minors or buying tobacco for minors.
Funding from the grant also enables the department to create and distribute educational materials and host educational events throughout the year.