Sting results in multiple Liberty County businesses cited for selling tobacco, e-cigs to minors

Liberty County Pct. 6 Cpl. Randy Walter talks to a store clerk in Dayton after she allegedly sold an e-cigarette to an underage purchaser during a sting on March 17.

The Liberty County Pct. 6 Constable’s Office just wrapped up a county-wide sting to catch local businesses selling cigarettes or electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) to underage customers. Of the 46 stores that were visited over the course of three weeks, 14 stores, the equivalent of 30 percent, were cited for selling the products to the underage purchaser working with the deputy constables.

Each of the clerks were issued a Class C misdemeanor citation – the equivalent to a traffic ticket – that will require them to either pay a fine or appear before a judge to make other arrangements. If they ignore the ticket, they will be charged with Failure to Appear, which could result in arrest or larger penalties.

While the selling of tobacco and e-cigarettes might seem a small crime to some, Pct. 6 Constable Zack Harkness said his office was responding to complaints from residents in the community.

A store clerk in Dayton tries to explain to Pct. 6 Deputy Constable Dustin Dagenhart why she illegally sold cigarettes or e-cigarettes to an underage purchaser during a sting on March 17. The clerk was issued a Class C misdemeanor citation.

“We routinely get complaints about stores selling tobacco and e-cigs. We looked into how to best solve the problem and found that Texas State University has a contract where we could get funding while also enforcing the law regarding tobacco and e-cigarette sales,” Harkness said. “We know these aren’t the crimes of the century, but part of our job is responding to residents’ complaints and these complaints make up a small percentage of all complaints we receive.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, prevention efforts must focus on young adults ages 18 and 25. Every day, more than 1,200 U.S. residents die due to smoking.

“Almost no one starts smoking after age 25. Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers started smoking by age 18, and 99 percent started by age 26. Progression from occasional to daily smoking almost always occurs by age 26,” the HHS fact sheet reads. “Tobacco use by youth and young adults causes both immediate and long-term damage. One of the most serious health effects is nicotine addiction, which prolongs tobacco use and can lead to severe health consequences. The younger youth are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they’ll be addicted.”

For some of the clerks who sold to the underage purchaser, a lack of education about the law appears to have been an issue. For others, it was negligence in not asking for the purchaser’s ID card.

“All of our decoys were 17 years old. Even though the law states that no one under the age of 21 can purchase tobacco or e-cigarettes, we went 3-4 years lower in age for our decoy. We tried to play the game as fair as possible,” Harkness said. “Everything we do in these stings is real. The purchaser uses their real age and real ID. We are just trying to ensure compliance with the law.”

The TSU grant also helps the constable’s office pay for some much-needed items for deputies, such as equipment and repairs of vehicles.

“With the funding we are getting from the grant, we are buying basic medical supplies and uniforms, such as raingear and extra boots – items not covered by our annual budget,” Harkness said. “We have three certified EMTs out of our six members of staff, so the medical supplies can help us in emergencies with the public or in the event that one of us is injured.”

Stores that sold to minors:

03/17/2022

  • Dayton Chevron, 304 Linney St.
  • Fuel Maxx, 9645 US Hwy 90
  • Fuel Maxx, 9674A SH 146 S.
  • Country Food Mart, 306 E. Hwy 90

03/10/2022

  • Liberty Chevron, 2770 Hwy 90
  • Budget Food Mart, 899 Main St.
  • Blue’s Mart, 800 Main St. Suite D
  • Vape City, 927 Main St.

02/15/2022

  • Fuel Depot, 608 Nevell
  • Cleveland Food Mart, 610 E. Houston  
  • Corner Market Mobile Station, 1109 E. Houston
  • Parkway Market, 2403 Hwy 321

9 COMMENTS

  1. What a putrid waste of time, I wonder how many kilos of meth slipped past them while they were worried about teenagers vaping.

  2. I agree with the above comment. A waste of taxpayer money. Constable Zack Harkness, tell the parents to go spank their butts.

  3. My grandson told me that he and his friends have been able to get anything from vapes, thc oil vapes, alcohol, just about anything they want from vape shops and convenience stores around Liberty for years now. If they don’t get these illegal things from the stores, they can get it from students that are selling it in our schools.

  4. This is happening in the DECOY’S own backyard, right under their nose! Send the DECOYS into the bathrooms during class changing, at Liberty High & Middle School, they will see what is going on in there between classes! Have you sent your DECOYS to Vape City Liberty? Their location is 927 Main St. Suite B. I have a receipt that I found on an underage family member in which a vape was sold to them by a cashier named Hope, last year.

  5. I bet the “decoy” is going to gain tons of popularity points after his peers see this. Also, holy hell, did deputy chubby spend the past few months being a decoy at all you can eat chicken fried steak buffets? Does this county have physical standards for peace officers? Pretty sure officer backfat would sweat gravy after running a 10 yard dash. Be better

  6. While your out busting the vape/smoke establishments, which I’ve lost count of how many are in Liberty, (there seems to be one on every other block, on Main and other places), how about all of the establishments with gaming machines? They are not paying their patrons with prizes, they pay with cash. How in the hell are they able to continue, who’s getting “paid off” to keep quiet about that illegal activity going on, among other illegal activities, including the meth problems here?? This town has become soo corrupt. It doesn’t matter what you know about what’s going on, it’s become a town of who you know and who you blow, and what side of the railroad track you’re from! People, open your eyes up and stop burying your heads in the sand! Our children, in this town, don’t have a chance in hell, only a select few, maybe!

  7. You soon have an election coming up for the Liberty City Council. Make some changes. Might help, who knows. But, they can ban anything they want. Why not these places?

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