Vape shops, be prepared! The FDA is about to send undercover teenagers into your stores to catch your employees violating federal law. And while your first violation may just earn a warning letter, repeat offenses could bring fines of up to $11,000 per violation, and even lead to a “no-tobacco-sale order,” meaning your store could be prohibited from selling tobacco products. There may be additional local and state penalties too.
Anyone familiar with the cigarette business knows the FDA (and sometimes local and state governments too) conduct stings — “compliance checks” — sending teenagers into stores to attempt tobacco purchases. Now that vapor products have been “deemed” by the FDA, the same thing will happen in vape shops, and the penalties are the same too.
The FDA is looking to expand its teenage workforce. HeiTech Services, a federal contractor that administers the “underage purchaser” program in some areas is actively seeking teenagers to conduct compliance checks in cities in 13 states, according to a job posting on its website, linked in a Craig’s List post in Las Vegas.
Sixteen-year-old non-smokers: Uncle Sam wants YOU!
The job description is straightforward: “The FDA Center for Tobacco Products requires the assistance of minors age 16 – 17 to attempt the purchase of tobacco products from local tobacco retailers. The goal of the program is to ensure tobacco retailers are complying with Federal laws and regulations that prevent them from selling tobacco products to minors.”
Essential Duties and Responsibilities
- Underage Purchasers are escorted to and from the local tobacco retailers by an assigned chaperone
- Underage Purchasers will be driven to and from the store location by an assigned chaperone up to a 60-mile radius if necessary
- Underage Purchasers are accompanied in the store by State inspectors and attempt to purchase tobacco products
- At the end of the attempt the Underage Purchasers leave the store with or without a purchased item
- Purchased items are turned over to the State inspector
- Underage Purchasers are required to fill out a short report and provide it to the inspector
- Upon request Underage Purchasers will provide updates to contact information
Skills and Abilities Required
- A mature individual aged 16 or 17 with a strong work ethic
- Ability to work outside of school hours
- Willingness to dress and look age appropriate
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills
- Ability to successfully complete two (2) short training classes
Minimum Education and Experience Required
- Must be 16 or 17 years of age at the time of the attempted purchase
- Must have parental consent to participate
- Must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher
- Must be a non-smoker
- Must not have any prior law enforcement convictions
- Must be willing to consent to a background investigation
- Must show valid identification when requested
- i.e. be willing to submit an updated photo prior to each attempted purchase
- Must be able to provide 2 references
- one of which is a teacher or current/former employer
According to its website, HeiTech Services, Inc. is “a federal programs and technology solutions provider headquartered in Landover, Maryland. We specialize in delivering Business Processing and Information Technology Services. Incorporated in 1999, HeiTech Services has implemented effective management-oriented solutions specifically designed to reduce costs and streamline operations for our client base, which includes twelve federal government agencies.”
Managers: train and practice, and check everyone
Vape shops that don’t train their employees are going to be the first victims of federal compliance checks. The law says that shops must check ID of anyone under 27, and not sell to anyone under 18 (that age can be even higher, depending on state law). The best advice from retailers who have been through this for years may be to simply check everyone.
Adult customers who care about their favorite shops staying in business won’t be bothered by having to show an ID. Shop owners and managers need to make sure their employees are very aware that these compliance checks are coming, and constantly remind employees.