When it comes to the illegal sale of tobacco to minors, Gila County ranks above the state average, according to figures released Wednesday by the state attorney general’s office.
After a yearlong undercover study, the odds an underage teen in Gila County can buy cigarettes is about 25 percent with the state fail average just under 15 percent.
Attorney General Tom Horne said his office used underage volunteers to test whether retail outlets were properly carding and checking identification before selling tobacco products in a program known as CounterStrike.
Statewide, retailers failed about one out of seven visits, or 288 times out of the nearly 2,000 stores inspected.
Stores in rural counties failed more often than urban areas.
“For every 20 minors that walk into a store in Arizona to buy cigarettes, three of them — without fake IDs or lying or even trying to hide their true age — will be able to buy cigarettes,” Horne said. “Even though one sale is one too many, 288 failures is utterly unacceptable.”
Apache, Coconino, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Navajo and Pinal counties were among the highest failing counties, with La Paz at the top with a 35 percent fail rate.
Gila County came in at 25 percent with four of the stores visited caught selling tobacco to a minor.
The remaining counties, including Maricopa and Pima, reflect the statewide average of 15 percent.
Horne said his office takes underage tobacco sales seriously and any clerk found violating state law could pay a fine up to $300.
“We regularly send out underage volunteers who attempt to make purchases, and if they are offered the opportunity to buy tobacco products by a store clerk, that is a violation of state law,” he said. “The clerk is held personally liable for paying a fine.”
On Wednesday, Horne unveiled a new TV and radio Public Service Announcement that warns store personnel of the consequences of underage sales.
The attorney general’s office has run CounterStrike since 2002 in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The program has inspected more than 23,000 retailers since its inception.