CEDAR RAPIDS — In an effort to keep tobacco products out of the hands of minors, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office is teaming up with the Alcoholic Beverages Division to enforce the state’s tobacco laws and educate local retailers.
“We want to make sure that tobacco and alternative nicotine products are not being sold to those who shouldn’t have them,” Maj. Chad Colston said. “It’s important that we ensure local retailers are operating in compliance with state laws, but we’re also trying to keep kids from using these products.”
In the coming weeks, Colston said the sheriff’s office will conduct compliance checks at all Linn County businesses that sell tobacco or alternative nicotine products.
To do so, the sheriff’s office will use underage volunteers and send them into these businesses, under the supervision of law enforcement, to see if they can purchase tobacco products.
The teens, Colston said, are 16 or 17 years old and each has volunteered to help the sheriff’s office run the checks.
Those businesses that card the volunteer and refuse the sale will be found in compliance, and they will later receive a letter commending them for their adherence to state laws, Colston said.
But those selling restricted products to the teen without verifying their age will be cited on the spot.
Criminal penalties for selling tobacco, alternative nicotine and vapor products to a minor include a $100 fine for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense and a $500 fine for third and subsequent offenses.
Since the program’s inception in 2000, the statewide tobacco compliance rate has grown to 91 percent, which is in line with the rate in Linn County, Colston said.
“Last year, out of the 28 businesses we checked, we only found about four were in non-compliance,” he said. “So a majority of our local businesses are doing what they are supposed to be doing when it comes to selling these products.”
This year, Colston said he expects the sheriff’s office will visit about 30 businesses in Linn County, not including the retailers in cities that have their own police departments.
However, handing out citations is not what this program is about, he said.
The I-Pledge program places emphasis on retailer training and offers clerks an online training course that covers topics like recognizing underage customers, as well as the penalties retailers could face for not complying with the law.
Clerks that successfully complete the online training and then pass an exam will become I-Pledge certified, which allows a retail establishment to use an affirmative defense against a civil penalty if the certified clerk makes an illegal sale.
“The I-Pledge retailer training is a great way for clerks to prepare themselves to refuse illegal tobacco, alternative nicotine and vapor product sales,” Sheriff Brian Gardner said.
“The training also assists retailers to ensure they maintain a compliant and responsible establishment,” he said. “By partnering with the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, we hope to educate clerks and maintain a compliant retail environment in our community.”
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