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Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Illegal tobacco sales during annual inspection in Indiana at all-time low

Feb. 24, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Tobacco product sales to teens who assisted with the annual Tobacco Retailer Inspection Program (TRIP) in Indiana hit an all-time low last year despite an increase in the number of inspections. Sales occurred during just 5.6 percent of more than 9,000 inspections.

TRIP is a joint venture of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) at Indiana University Bloomington and the Indiana State Excise Police.

"TRIP is continuing to have positive results with the help of tobacco retailers across the state," said Aaron Jones, TRIP operations coordinator at the IPRC, which is part of IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Asking for ID from anyone that appears under 25 is crucial in reducing the sale of tobacco to Indiana youth."

In Indiana it is illegal for a clerk or a retail establishment to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18.

Last year, TRIP began recording the type of tobacco requested during the surprise inspections in order to track how frequently each kind -- cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or cigars -- was sold to the underage youth. Cigars were asked for the least amount of times but had the highest rate of sales at 7 percent.

"This finding highlights the importance of awareness and prevention efforts focused on alternative forms of tobacco," Jones said. "Tobacco retailers need to ensure they are not selling any form of tobacco to youth under 18."

Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones

Indiana is divided into 13 inspections districts; each has an inspection team made up of a police officer, an adult assistant and a youth assistant. During TRIP inspections, teens enter stores under the observation of the adult or officer and attempts to buy a tobacco product -- usually cigarettes, but sometimes smokeless tobacco if it is a popular product in the area, or cigars.

The teens do not carry their ID and never lie to the clerk. If the youth is successful with the purchase, the TRIP officer issues a notice of violation to the clerk and to the store. Fines for stores with violations range from $200 to $1,300 depending on the number of prior violations the store has committed. Last year saw an increase of more than 1,000 inspections.

When TRIP inspections began in 2000, 40 percent of retailers were found to have sold tobacco to minors, and the state saw six consecutive years of decline until 2007's slight increase. The downward trend in tobacco sales to youth resumed in 2008 and continued with last year's record low.

"This has been another successful year for preventing tobacco products from being sold to youth in our state," said Ruth Gassman, IPRC executive director. "TRIP has once again been demonstrated to be a highly effective approach to halting retail sales of tobacco to our children. This program is an extremely important collaborative effort with broad and far reaching benefits on the health of Indiana's youth."

Visit the TRIP Web site at for complete inspection data.

TRIP is supported by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, Division of Mental Health and Addiction with state and federal dollars and is administered through the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and the IPRC, which is part of the School of HPER's Department of Applied Health Science.

For more information, contact Jones at 812-855-8263 and