Several Springfield convenience store employees are facing criminal charges after allegedly selling tobacco products to minors.
In a sting operation carried out by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, undercover teens went inside nine businesses to see if employees would sell them cans of chewing tobacco.
Out of those nine stores, five allegedly sold to the teens without ID’ing them.
Those stores included Just Smokes on West First Street, Speedway on East Main Street, Sunoco on East Main Street, Marathon on South Yellow Springs Street and Shell on West North Street.
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Seven employees were hit with charges — five adults and two teens.
Ronald Joseph, Rupander Kaur, Baljinder Singh, Manprit Singh and Stacy Erne were all charged with illegal distribution of cigarettes, other tobacco products or alternative nicotine products.
All of the employees pleaded not guilty in Clark County Municipal Court on Friday with the exception of Rupander Kaur, who pleaded no contest. Kaur is set for sentencing on June 28.
The fourth-degree misdemeanor charge is potentially punishable by 30 days in jail or a $250 fine.
Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Lane said the sting was carried out because of the increased amount of tobacco products he, and other deputies, have seen in Clark County’s schools.
“Kids are actually trading new pairs of tennis shoes for a tobacco-type product or a vape-type product to feed their addictions,” he said. “If the community — or even parents — knew what was going on inside our school system, I think they’d see where we were coming from.”
The sting comes on the heels of a recent proposal by Gov. Mike DeWine to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 — which includes not only cigarettes, but vaping products too.
More than 1 in 5 Ohioans smoke and tobacco-related diseases kill far more Ohioans every year than opioids — about 20,180 smoking attributable deaths versus 3,497 opioid overdose deaths in 2016.
Vaping products, such as e-cigarettes, have also exploded in popularity among high school students, up about 20.9 percent in 2018. High school seniors reported in an annual national survey that they had vaped within the last 30 days — up from 11 percent in 2017.
Even without a state-level policy raising the purchase age to 21, local governments have been adopting ordinances to raise the age.
The Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation reports there are now 17 local communities who have adopted such policies in the state of Ohio, which includes major cities like Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
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Staff Writers Kaitlin Schroeder and Laura Bischoff contributed to this article.