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    Iowa Retailers, Police Target Youth Smokers

    New "Cops in Shops" program aims to identify minors attempting to purchase tobacco products.

    AMES, Iowa -- Convenience store retailers here are teaming with local police to undercut teen smoking.

    The program, called Cops in Shops, is sponsored by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division and supported by police. The joint effort is partially funded by the state agency to put undercover police in places where tobacco is sold. The goal is to identify and stop attempts by minors from purchasing or receiving tobacco products from local retailers, according to the Aimes Tribune.

    During the program, police officers in plain clothes will monitor a number of area businesses that sell tobacco products. Ames police are contacting businesses to and seeking permission to be in their stores.

    Police anticipate the program's proactive measures will reduce the demand for tobacco products by minors and stem the purchase of tobacco products for minors by older individuals. "Part of the process is people not knowing when or where we are going to be," said Commander Jim Robinson.

    Retailers caught selling tobacco products to underage buyers are subject to a $300 fine for first offense, with subsequent violations resulting in a progressive 30-day and 60-day suspension of permits. Clerks are subject to a simple misdemeanor citation and progressive fines of $100, $250 and $500. Minors in possession of tobacco products are subject to a $50 fine and eight hours of community service for the first offense.

    A report released in April by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division shows tobacco compliance rising in Story County, which reported a 91 percent retail compliance rate for the first part of 2002, an improvement of 5 percent from last year. The statewide average was 87 percent compliance. The report indicated 81 of 82 tobacco retail outlets in the county had been checked since September 2001. Seven citations were issued to retailers for selling tobacco products to minors.

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