Region's illegal tobacco sales spike
More than a third of businesses that officials recently checked in southwest North Dakota sold tobacco to minors, according to information released by the Southwestern District Health Unit on Friday.
"We were very, very surprised when we saw the results," said Tammy Hovet, Tobacco Prevention and Control project coordinator for SWDHU.
Twenty-two of 63 businesses checked in eight counties sold tobacco to minors in September and October, she said. The data shows a sharp spike in illegal sales, since a check of 65 businesses in the same counties in June turned up eight.
"We're frustrated with the increase and we are looking into what to do to improve this," Hovet said. "Something needs to be done."
All the businesses have training manuals spelling out how to determine if somebody is a minor, she said.
In addition, the check showed employees at seven businesses asked for the minor's identification, which showed their true age, and then sold tobacco to them anyway.
"We're finding that they actually look at the IDs and they believe that if they look at the IDs that they're doing their job," Hovet said. "You actually have to look at the ID and read that they aren't old enough to be sold tobacco."
An employee of Creative Energy in South Heart, which failed the check, did not ask the minor for identification. Galen Teichert, general manager, said employees are trained to ask.
"If they look like they're young -- 27 and below -- we should be trying to card them," Teichert said.
He is unsure why the employee didn't follow training.
"We did talk to a couple of retailers who did sell and a couple of them said right now it's so hard to hire employees and it seems like they're constantly changing, too," Hovet said.
"They're just falling through and not getting the training that they need because they're hiring them so quickly."
Beach Food Center Manager Jim Kary said he was unaware the business failed the check.
"We've failed one or two in the past," he said. "The problem is with our younger kids, the school kids that work for us, sometimes they have a hard time reading the ID."
Not every county had failures, Hovet said.
"Adams County did great," Hovet said. "There were four businesses checked and nobody sold in Adams County."
The one Slope County business checked also passed, she said.
SWDHU conducts the checks by having a person younger than 18 try to purchase tobacco while an adult waits outside the business, Hovet said.
"They must show their identification if asked," she said. "While conducting the compliance checks they have to dress how they would normally. They don't attempt to make themselves look older."
If asked, the minor is supposed to give their actual age, Hovet said.
However, the minor who purchased tobacco at the Regent Co-op falsely told the clerk they were 20, she said. The clerk did not check identification.
Once the information about sales is compiled, it is up to each community to decide how to enforce regulations, Hovet said.
Managers at several of the businesses who failed checks declined comment or were unavailable for comment Friday.
Please see our print edition for a list of the businesses failing the tobacco compliance checks.