According to Indiana State Excise Police, Clay County had the third-worst compliance rate in the state in 2006 for retailers selling tobacco products to minors.
The Tobacco Retailer Inspection Program (TRIP) recruits local officers and 15-17-year-old children to attempt to purchase cigarettes, pipes, cigars and smokeless tobacco in an effort to enforce state and federal laws.
During inspections in 2006, 46.2 percent of retailers in Clay County that were inspected failed by selling tobacco to a minor. This number is up from 7.1 percent failure in 2005.
The state average in 2006 was 10.5 percent, and only Ripley and Parke Counties had higher failure rates (50 percent for both).
Through October of this year, 11 county retailers have been inspected by the excise team, and nine passed.
Deak's Fur Company in Staunton and Hillman's Market in Poland were the two retailers that failed inspection.
Major Robin Poindexter of the Indiana State Excise Police oversees the TRIP inspections, and said doing regular inspections keeps retailers who sell to minors on the excise police radar.
Inspection failure results in penalties for both the retailer and the employee who sold the tobacco product. Fines can range from $50 to $500, depending on the number of violations.
Those who fail inspection will be immediately placed on the list of retailers still needing to be inspected.
Vendors and employees are also subject to prosecution in the county where the infraction occurred.
"In order for the Mental Health Association to receive funding for addiction treatment programs, the non-compliance rate must be under 30 percent," Poindexter said.
The goal, though, is to keep the rate under 15 percent, because millions of dollars are on the line.
"Ideally, we could reach zero compliance failures, but I don't think that's realistic," Poindexter said, citing turnover in retailers as a difficulty.
To combat the issues that come with inexperienced vendors, the excise police hope to offer an online training course for retailers and their employees as early as the beginning of 2008.
Another way for licensed tobacco retailers to prevent TRIP failures is to request a training class from the excise police, which would be funded by the Local Coordinating Committee (LCC).
"When people realize that people are going to try to get you to sell to a juvenile, they'll start checking IDs more," Poindexter said.
TRIP began in 1999 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a way to enforce tobacco sales laws. In 2001, it was reassigned to the state excise police.
Funding for the TRIP program comes from the Master Tobacco Settlement, and uses recruits from the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University for its 6,000 annual inspections.
The excise police conduct inspections separately from the TRIP program as well.
TRIP is not part of the federally mandated compliance checks in the Synar Legislation.
Law compliance checks under Synar Legislation are intended to create a scientific estimate of the number of retailers selling tobacco to minors, and do not fine violators.
About 900 Synar inspections are done in the state every year.
Completion of Synar checks is part of a state's application for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment funds from the federal government.