An undercover operation by public health in Mangere revealed that three out of 10 outlets investigated on a single day were selling cigarettes illegally.
Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) regularly carries out stings using teenage volunteers who visit retailers to ensure that tobacco sales comply with the legislation. By law, retailers should be requesting ID for individuals buying tobacco if they look under 25.
“If you break the law you could be prosecuted. That’s our message to retailers who are encouraging tobacco addiction in childhood,” says Health Improvement Manager, Dean Adam from ARPHS.
Retailers face hefty punishments for selling tobacco to minors including criminal convictions and fines of up to $10,000 if prosecuted. A conviction means restrictions on employment, business and international travel.
“Shops selling cigarettes to children make addiction easy. They help kids buy into a life-long nicotine habit - and children don’t understand the consequences of that,” says Mr Adam.
"I started smoking at a very young age from the illegal trade of cigarettes. During the last six years, I spent the same amount of money on cigarettes as my $30,000 student loan. Smoking took away my financial freedom," says student Arnia Appleby.
ARPHS has run more than 1000 undercover operations over the last five years.
“Our team is getting more effective at catching and prosecuting people. We also receive tip-offs from regular customers about their local store. It proves the community is taking a stand with us on this issue,” says Mr Adam.
Mr Adam says it is disappointing to see such a high number of breaches within a few hours of going undercover. Retailers are putting their own personal profit ahead of young people’s health. The Mangere Otahuhu area has the lowest life expectancy and one of the highest rates of smoking of any local board.
ARPHS wants to hear from community groups or individuals keen to take action in the fight against childhood tobacco addiction. If you know of any retailers breaking cigarette laws it’s easy to make an anonymous complaint.