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Underage undercover agents made fewer illegal tobacco purchases in Davis County this year than in 1992 in the county health department's ongoing tobacco enforcement program.

Jamie Swanson, who oversees the department's tobacco education and enforcement program, reported an average of 12 percent of the purchase attempts were successful during a fall and spring testing period.That compares with 20 percent of the purchase attempts last year, Swanson told the county health board.

Swanson credited the department's education efforts and public awareness for the decrease. Word has gotten around, Swanson told the board, that many grocery and convenience store chains fire clerks who sell tobacco products to minors.

Swanson said the current enforcement effort has resulted in 29 illegal purchases out of 232 supervised attempts. The program will run through this month, and Swanson said she's aiming for a total of 300 purchase attempts.

"We're trying to hit all of the stores in the county that sell tobacco products three times in a year," Swanson told the board.

Violations result in a letter to the store owner or manager, detailing the date and time of purchase and, when possible, an identification of the clerk who sold the product.

A copy of the letter is also sent to the local police department, Swanson said, which also catches the attention of the offender.

Swanson singled out the North Salt Lake and Centerville police departments, which she said are especially cooperative with the undercover enforcement program.

The underage volunteer buyers are carefully screened and trained, Swanson said. They are told not to lie about their age or offer a cover story about not having proper identification.

Their job is to go into a store and simply try to make a purchase, Swanson said, and if they're successful, to get a positive identification of the clerk who sold the product.

If there's any uncertainty about that, Swanson said a health department employee will go in the store to verify the identification, knowing that a mistake could cause an innocent clerk to lose his job.

Health department director E. Arnold Isaacson said the county's proposed tobacco access and sales ordinance is still being amended and reviewed.