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With the help of a 16-year-old volunteer, the Newcastle Police Department performed an underage tobacco sale compliance check on Friday, May 31.

The tobacco compliance check consisted of sending an undercover officer into local businesses that sell tobacco products. Shortly thereafter the minor would enter the establishment and ask the clerk for a tobacco related product.

At this point, serving as a witness to a potential crime, the officer would pay special attention to whether or not the young lady was asked to show her ID to prove that she was 18, the required age to purchase tobacco in Oklahoma.

If the clerk sold any tobacco related product to the teen, a citation would have been immediately issued, and the clerk would be responsible for the fine which is $290.

“Most every store told our volunteer that she was too young and needed to wait a couple of years before she could complete such a transaction,” Newcastle Police Department Chief Gary Norman said.

A total of 11 businesses were unknowing participants in the compliance check that resulted in all 11 stores being declared compliant.

Those locations were: Tri-City 66/Phillips 66, Tri-City Mart/Conoco, Walmart, Thunder Mart/Conoco, RB66, Loves North, Loves South, Handy’s, Bells, Dollar General, Walgreens.

“We are extremely happy with the outcome,” said Norman. “It’s always nice to see the community, as a whole, work together to abide by laws and help keep our youth away from tobacco.”

Underage tobacco use has become an epidemic sweeping the nation.

Last November the Food and Drug Administration launched a multi-pronged attack on the rising underage use of tobacco products, imposing sales restrictions on flavored e-cigarettes and announcing plans to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

The new sales restrictions reflect health experts' concerns that e-cigarette use could lead to nicotine addiction early in life and affect the developing adolescent brain and that some e-cigarette users will go on to smoke more dangerous regular cigarettes. The agency also said it will go after products marketed to children — through the use of cartoon characters, for example.

More significant than the e-cigarette steps are the FDA’s commitments to propose bans on menthol in cigarettes and cigars, as well as other flavors in cigars. Such prohibitions will require new regulations that could take years to go into effect and could be derailed by opposition from the tobacco industry. If successful, though, the bans could have an especially large impact on African American adults and youth, who smoke menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars at higher rates than other groups.

The FDA published new data showing a surge in e-cigarette use among minors. The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that vaping had increased 78 percent among high school students since last year and almost 48 percent among middle schoolers; 3.6 million youngsters reported vaping at least once in the previous 30 days.

The FDA says it will limit sales of many flavored e-cigarettes to bricks-and-mortar outlets that have either age-restricted entry or areas inside stores that are not accessible to people under

18. The agency also will require stepped-up age verification for online sales.

The FDA’s e-cigarette crackdown already has had an impact. Juul Labs, which accounts for more than 70 percent of e-cigarette retail sales and has been blamed by the FDA for much of the rise in underage use, announced this week that it would stop selling most of its flavored e-cigarette pods — specifically, mango, fruit, crème and cucumber — in 90,000 retail outlets, and enhance its online protections. The company also said it would halt its social media promotions of the products. And Altria said late last month it would stop selling its pod-based flavored e-cigarettes for now.

The e-cigarette sales restrictions cover e-liquids as well as cartridges and pods, the FDA said. Agency officials said those items already are sold primarily in adult vape and tobacco shops. But vaping advocates said the items are popular at truck stops, and could be affected.

Why is vaping an important issue?

According to the Truth Initiative, young people who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to start smoking  cigarettes than their peers who do not vape. On top of that, e-cigarette use among young people, many

of whom were not smokers in the first place, has skyrocketed in recent years, jumping 78%  among high schoolers between 2017 and 2018 alone.

Nicotine levels in e-cigarettes are highly variable, with some reaching levels near combustible cigarettes. Nicotine is harmful to developing brains: younger users are more likely to become addicted, have more difficulty quitting and may be at higher risk for addiction to other substances in the future.

Locally, the NPD does their part in the prevention of underage tobacco use by performing the tobacco compliance check. The goal is to stop underage tobacco use, as well as holding stores and their clerks accountable.

Nationally the fight to prevent underage tobacco use has only just begun.

The Newcastle Pacer

P.O. Box 429

120 NE 2nd, Suite 102 - Newcastle, Oklahoma 73065