As health concerns over the vaping epidemic continue to grow, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and Central Coast schools are trying to crack down on illegal tobacco and vaping product sales to minors.
Over the last three months, the deputy in charge of tobacco sting operations in the county says 30 to 40% of retailers in Monterey County are still selling these products to minors.
In that time they’ve been sending in juvenile decoys to see which retailers would sell tobacco or vaping products to them.
“I sadly can say in our past experience it doesn’t matter how young I make the decoy look, they still have an easy time purchasing tobacco products,” says Deputy James Day of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office.
Of the 13 stores in Seaside, two of them had clerks sell tobacco products to minors.
Salinas Union High School District staff are doing their part to crack down on underage vaping by partnering with Community Human Services out of Monterey.
That group, in turn, works with multiple Salinas high schools by using a vaping intervention workshop/program to counsel kids who are caught in possession of a vaping product or using one on campus.
What Community Human Services said they found is that it’s getting easier for teens to get ahold of vaping products.
“They can get it from older friends and online,” says Shawn Stone with Community Human Services. “With the level of convenience there’s increased experimentation.”
Stone says it’s a matter of making these products less available. That’s where the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office is stepping in.
Deputy James Day says he has a list of retailers provided by the state that he’s told to check in and see if they’re selling tobacco and vaping products to minors.
“I don’t target specific stores unless I notice there’s a problem or I get a complaint made about seeing a bunch of kids buying product at a store,” says Deputy Day.
If retailers are caught selling to a juvenile decoy, they are cited on the spot.
We caught up with a clerk who was cited for selling to an underage individual.
She says she saw the number “21” on the ID and went through with the sale without verifying the date of birth.
She says she was having a stressful day at work, but that it wasn’t an excuse to make that mistake.
“It’s my fault,” she says. “I was so frustrated but I learned my lesson. I need to pay more attention.”
The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office says they plan on using juvenile decoys at every tobacco retailer in the county.
Meanwhile, Community Human Services says they’ve seen few re-offenders enter their vaping intervention program.
Last year they saw 60 students on average, per each of the 7 sites they handle, get enrolled in the program.