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Teen tobacco enforcement team uses minors – QNS.com

Teen tobacco enforcement team uses minors

If a teenager comes into a store to buy cigarettes, the person behind the counter may want to think twice before selling the smokes to someone without asking for identification.
That is because the teenager may actually be part of the Teen Tobacco Enforcement Program, which aims to stop cigarette retailers in New York City from selling tobacco to minors.
Currently, there are 10-12 teens working for the program under the direction of the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) - the agency charged with licensing cigarette retailers in the five boroughs and enforcing the laws.
A teen officer, along with two undercover DCA officers, goes into stores around the city, and the teen tries to purchase cigarettes, according to DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. After the teen tobacco officer asks for cigarettes, there are two possible outcomes.
If the store clerk asks for identification, the teen turns around and leaves the store. However, if the teen is not carded, he or she buys the pack of cigarettes and then leaves the store walking a safe distance away. Then, the undercover inspectors go up to the counter and tell the store clerk that they are from the DCA.
“What we’re doing is very straightforward,” Mintz said. “We’re not trying to trick anybody.”
When a store does sell cigarettes to a minor, it receives a violation and fine, and depending on the location’s history of selling to minors, it could potentially lose its license.
Mintz said that the DCA does more than 10,000 inspections every year, but it does not focus on certain neighborhoods compared to others. Although the DCA inspects every store once a year, those stores with past violations can expect a few more visits.
“When we find one [a store] we’ve caught in the past, we circle back to them,” Mintz said.
In addition to conducting these sweeps, DCA inspectors also check to see whether the store has a license, if the city tobacco sign is posted properly, if cigarettes are behind the counter and whether the cigarettes have a New York State tax stamp.
However, some local Queens politicians believe that the DCA might have to step up its efforts to combat teen smoking.
“The Department of Consumer Affairs has been out there sporadically for many years now, but the enforcement effort seems to need reinforcement,” said City Councilmember John Liu, who represents Flushing and sits on the Council’s Health Committee.
Mintz, on the other hand, said that compliance with the law is at about 90 percent now, but he said that people in the community should let the DCA know if they see a store violating any of the rules.

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