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.
“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:
- Dayton Chevron, 304 Linney St.
- Fuel Maxx, 9645 US Hwy 90
- Fuel Maxx, 9674A SH 146 S.
- Country Food Mart, 306 E. Hwy 90
- Liberty Chevron, 2770 Hwy 90
- Budget Food Mart, 899 Main St.
- Blue’s Mart, 800 Main St. Suite D
- Vape City, 927 Main St.
- Fuel Depot, 608 Nevell
- Cleveland Food Mart, 610 E. Houston
- Corner Market Mobile Station, 1109 E. Houston
- Parkway Market, 2403 Hwy 321