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County discusses teen tobacco program

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A state-backed program that encourages law enforcement to conduct sting operations to catch businesses selling tobacco products to minors is headed to Caldwell County pending application approval.
Caldwell County Commissioners on Monday voted 4-0 to approve a request by county grant writer Dennis Engelke to pursue Tobacco Enforcement Program grants that will compensate law enforcement agencies for performing a requisite number of sting operations annually. The grants are being administered by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University on behalf of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
County Judge Hoppy Haden was not present at Monday’s meeting and did not vote.
Engelke said the aim of the project was not to harass businesses, but namely to help the county’s four participating constables generate revenue for work they’re already doing.
According to Engelke, there are 47 tobacco vendors in Caldwell County. Because there are fewer than 50, the constables will have to conduct sting operations on each one of them during the year to satisfy the terms of the program.
“We want to avoid the perception of harassing vendors,” Engelke said. “Stings might take 10-15 minutes. If you pass, you might not have another sting for a whole year. If you’re caught, it would only be justified if they come out and visit again.
“It’s not harassment, it’s just remuneration to cosntables for doing their job.”
The program does not require the county to match. Constables will receive $1,100 for each sting reported, regardless of result.
Prior to the vote, Engelke read from a list of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics that said 3,200 people 18 and under smoke their first cigarettes, and that the peak age for first time cigarette usage is between ages 11 and 13.
Commissioner Joe Roland made the motion to approve the application, which Engelke indicated would be submitted the same day to satisfy a due date extension he’d requested.
“They’re right about all the things smoking starts,” Roland said. “I’ve seen it first hand. I used to be involved with the basketball program. They were all great kids, but there were a few who got off on the wrong foot, and it was because of smoking.”

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