Tobacco sting targets Smoky River region

A recent tobacco sting operation in the Smoky River region has resulted in two warnings being issued to local businesses by Health Canada.
Peter Thirnbeck, tobacco enforcement officer with Health Canada, says warning letters were forwarded to the owners of the two unidentified businesses – one in McLennan and the other in Girouxville – following random compliance checks which were carried out between the hours of 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sept. 20 using two female 16-year-old test shoppers.
In McLennan, five retail businesses were targeted under the tobacco sting operation. Four out of the five clerks working that day requested proof of age from the test shoppers while a fifth clerk did not, subsequently selling tobacco products to a minor under the age of 18.
Similar results were later revealed in Girouxville where two of three retail clerks requested proper identification from the test shoppers. The third clerk, however, was found to be in contravention of regulations under the Tobacco Enforcement Act, which came into effect April 25 of 1997.
Thirnbeck said additional compliance checks were also conducted in Tangent, Eaglesham and Wanham with all three retailers requesting identification prior to completing tobacco sales transactions. He described the 83 per cent compliance rate as “very good,” adding that the overall numbers of illegal tobacco sales each year in this region continue to drop.
“When I first began doing this in 1995 a good compliance rate was considered to be around 60 per cent. Nowadays we’re generally between 70 and 80 per cent thanks in large part to ongoing education and cooperation with the RCMP, media and non-smoking coalitions,” he explained.
Still he admits there is a downside, which in this case revolves around the fact that teenagers are still slipping through the system despite the increased awareness.
“Underage minors continue to get their tobacco products from three prime sources: parents, students over the age of 18 and adults on the street,” he said, adding that people caught purchasing tobacco for minors are subject to a maximum fine of $3,000. “Every time we set up a buy on the street we catch someone.”
The tobacco sting falls on the heels of an earlier operation carried out by Thirnbeck between July 11 to 13. That specific operation involved the communities of Rycroft, Spirit River, Valleyview and Grande Prairie.
In the Rycroft/Spirit River region, three retailers were checked resulting in a 100 per cent compliance rate.
Similar results, however, failed to be achieved in Valleyview where three out of five retailers were issued warnings after selling tobacco products to a minor.
A fourth business, Valleyview Petro Canada, which was previously given a warning letter in September of 2000, was charged by Valleyview RCMP after the clerk sold tobacco products to the underage test shopper. Both the owner and clerk appeared in provincial court Sept. 20 where they entered guilty pleas.
“The end result was a fine of $500 to the clerk, Shane Hoffman, and a $1,500 fine to the retailer,” said Thirnbeck, who hopes the fines will send a strong message to other retailers about the costly consequences of furnishing tobacco products to minors.
In Grande Prairie, meanwhile, a total of 53 random checks were conducted at various businesses which sell tobacco products. From that total, 38 clerks requested identification while 15 did not. All 15 of those businesses were given warning letters.