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    Michigan Retailers Put on Alert

    State to spend $2.8 million spent to run aggressive tobacco stings.

    PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Michigan is spending nearly $3 million to prepare merchants for federally ordered tobacco-selling "stings," according to The Detroit News.

    States have been required since 1992 to conduct random, unannounced inspections of cigarette retailers annually to test compliance with age limits on buyers. At least 80 percent of shops must refuse to sell tobacco to underage decoys. If the state doesn't meet this compliance rate, its federal aid for substance abuse and prevention programs will be reduced for four years.

    To avoid slipping below the 80 percent compliance mandate, communities statewide are sending underage decoys and local police to see if stores let teens buy cigarettes. The more times stores are checked, police figure, the less likely they'll fail when it really counts: for the annual surprise inspection by undercover agents hired by the state.

    Michigan reportedly is in jeopardy of losing federal substance abuse money because it failed to meet the 80 percent compliance rate between 1997 and 2000. As a last-ditch effort to increase compliance, Michigan agreed to spend $2.8 million this year on youth tobacco prevention, including the stings, the report said.

    While federal money doesn't ride on the local inspections, clerks are still fined if they sell to minors working with local officers. Police departments get $40 from the state each time they send a decoy into a store, trying to buy tobacco. But police must agree to check all the local tobacco merchants two or three times a year.

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