One local law enforcement agency is teaming up with a statewide organization to help educate retailers on the consequences of selling tobacco to people under 18 years old.
The Iowa Pledge, which is a partnership between the Fort Dodge Police Department and Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, aims to both educate stores that sell tobacco products as well as stop underage smokers from getting possession of those products.
The I-Pledge program includes an online training program for clerks, which trains them on how to deal with an underage person trying to buy tobacco. Those who successfully complete the training will receive an affirmative defense for the store if a clerk sells to a minor.
Assistant Fort Dodge Police Chief Kevin Doty said the program is beneficial for the local stores and clerks.
"We understand that their staff may have changed year to year," Doty said. "Some people quit, and some stores have hired new people. You're spending that extra time to tell employees what the policy is, what the laws in Iowa are and what happens if they don't follow it."
Doty said the FDPD has taken part in the program over the course of several years.
"It's important to keep tobacco out of the hands of the kids," he said, citing one of the reasons the department participates in the I-Pledge.
In addition to the training, Doty said the FDPD will also be conducting compliance checks to see if retailers are checking the IDs of people who buy tobacco products.
"It would be a great day if we would do a compliance check and not issue any tickets," Doty said. "That tells us that everybody is conforming to the law and following it. Ultimately, that's what we want to happen."
However, he added that the I-Pledge's intent isn't to issue tickets to retailers. Instead, the goal is to educate them on proper procedures.
Doty said he's encouraged when he witnesses clerks doing what they can to prevent underage tobacco abuse.
"When I go into a store and see someone making a tobacco purchase, I'm happy when I see the clerk ask for ID," he said. "To me, not only does that clerk understand, but likely most of the other staff understands as well."
He added that this program is no different than encouraging drivers to buckle up their seatbelts or to avoid drinking and driving.
"This is just one more reminder to the public," Doty said. "It's cued in to the business owners and the employees that work in the business."