The Austin Police Department will continue to conduct sting operations monitoring the sale of tobacco and vape products to minors.
Austin City Council approved $50,000 in funding from Texas State University to APD for the operation at their meeting Thursday. These funds will cover 400 stings costing about $125 each, said Stephanie Jacksis, public information officer specialist for APD.
“APD periodically enters into fee-for-service contracts like this one,” Jacksis said. “Activity under this contract is citywide, and APD’s jurisdiction includes the areas surrounding UT campuses. Retailers that are not in compliance are tracked and officers continue to conduct follow-up activity, (and) they may have controlled buys or stings in the area.”
Texas State University’s tobacco prevention and enforcement program allocates money from the Texas Government to numerous police agencies across the state, said Jennifer Steele, associate director of tobacco prevention and enforcement in the Texas School Safety Center at TXST. Steele said the program takes into account population density of each department’s jurisdiction. While 400 stings cannot cover every store in Austin, the program allows APD to choose where the stings take place, Steele said.
“They do that based on their own knowledge of the area — what are problematic areas where they would like to sting those outlets,” Steele said. “Anyone is up for grabs.”
Although the legal age of purchasing tobacco products increased from 18 to 21 in September, Steele said the program will not change the age of those used in the stings. Steele said they do not want to trick the retailer because the specifics between federal and state laws are not clear.
The stings will focus solely on retailers and not minors attempting to purchase tobacco or vape products, Steele said.
“It’s not about punishing the young person,” Steele said. “It’s about making sure the retailers are responsible … not to say, ‘I got you’ to the young person who’s trying to buy the tobacco product. We know basically they’re pressured by the advertising of the industry … we just want to counteract those messages.”
Government freshman Omar Abdelrahman said many college students use vaping and tobacco products. He said he does not support a full ban, but he feels some restrictions on the products are necessary.
“The products are just too widely available for just any student to own,” Abdelrahman said. “(They) just use without any prior knowledge of how to use it or when to stop … so I feel like we need some sort of regulation.”
Steele said stings mixed with other methods of use prevention, including educating minors on risks and having access to recovery, are an effective method of enforcing of the law.
“Research has shown that limiting access to tobacco products, as well as vape products has an impact … on their use, accessibility, ease of access, as well as enforcement,” Steele said. “A law on the books that’s not enforced certainly can be perceived as one that’s not necessary. If it was really that bad, why wouldn’t they enforce that?”