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Free Minds & Free Markets

Denver Is Hiring Teen Cigarette Narcs

Finding a job as a 16-year-old can be a challenge.

Luckily, Denver is offering a unique employment opportunity geared specifically toward youth. The title of this once-in-a-lifetime resume-building gig? Minor tobacco operative.

Though the job title smacks of clandestine doublespeak, the position is pretty straightforward. The ideal candidate conducts "compliance inspections of tobacco retailers" by attempting to illegally purchase cigarettes. As these operatives coax vendors to sell them a pack of smokes ("I totally left my ID in my dorm room"), a law enforcement agent hovers outside.

In other words, Denver is hiring teen cigarette narcs.

The recent job posting is actually a continuation of a program that started in January 2017. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the rollout of the program by highlighting it in his latest budget. Described as "an increase in personnel services to hire on-call youth tobacco inspectors to conduct tobacco compliance inspections," one full-time equivalent of $26,900—six part-time positions starting at $12 per hour for 5–10 hours a week—was added to the Department of Environmental Health in 2017 budget.

These positions are funded by a statewide cigarette sales tax of an additional 84 cents per pack. Coloradans voted the sin tax into law in 2004, and the majority of the revenue is distributed to municipalities for the purpose of "health care and tobacco prevention programs." During the 2015–16 fiscal year, Colorado's "Prevention Detection Treatment Fund" spent $23.1 million funding programs such as Denver's minor tobacco operatives.

During the 2016 elections, Colorado voters narrowly defeated Amendment 72, which would have increased the existing sales tax by another $1.75 per pack. Projections were that over $315 million would be collected annually if the measure had passed. Opponents were concerned—and rightfully so—that the funds were a blank check that committed future legislatures to funding programs that were not transparent or accountable.

As stated in its annual report on "key strategic metrics," the Department of Environmental Health is hoping to increase "the percent of retail tobacco visits with sales to minors." The noncompliance rate of its sting operations rose from 8.3 percent in 2014 to 16 percent in 2015. In fact, the department hopes to snag even more vendors, projecting a 23 percent noncompliance rate by the end of 2017.

But if the goal is to reduce sales to minors, why is the department looking to entrap more vendors? Shouldn't the department want to become a deterrent, inspiring retailers to look more closely at IDs when peddling smokes?

It seems these compliance checks have more to do with revenue seeking and less to do with smoking cessation.

People are buying fewer tobacco products already. This means sales tax receipts are down. If voters won't approve new taxes—a perk of Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights is that it empowers voters to refuse additional levies—then local governments will have to find new and creative ways to generate revenue, such as employing the Marlboro Mob to shake down vendors for fines.

Under Colorado law, selling cigarettes to underage buyers carries a potential fine of $15,000. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue website, its tobacco enforcement division conducts approximately 2,500 retailer checks per year. Assuming an 80 percent compliance rate (which every state is required to maintain by federal law), roughly 500 retailers could still be pinched annually, meaning the state could theoretically grab up to $7.5 million in citation revenue.

Photo Credit: Lewis Hine, National Child Labor Committee Collection at the Library of Congress

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  • PeterYoung4LP||

    I'm surprised this is news. We've had narcs like these in Kansas for as long as I can remember, and they harass all sorts of business owners. Most of them were kids working off charges for possession of marijuana or other similar charges.

  • H. Farnham||

    Yep, I remember taking an active role in ostracizing kids doing this when I was in high school (they made it more difficult to get a can of chew). Although, I only remember straight-laced kids with dreams of being in the FBI taking part; I don't think any of them ever ended up working for the Feds, but at least a couple went on to be city cops.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Same for Arizona.

  • Leo Kovalensky||

    Most of them were kids working off charges for possession of marijuana or other similar charges.

    Just wait until Colorado hears about this! Who knew you could have slave laborers if you just trump up some stupid charges and hold it over kids heads?

  • Warren||

    I propose a total ban on cigarettes in exchange for a free market in vaping.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Could we apply the same logic to alcohol? A total ban on liquid alcohol consumption but a free market in alcohol sniffing.

    Probably the DUI revenooers would complain the loudest.

  • Hank Phillips||

    A ban on the initiation of force in exchange for the resuscitation of individual rights?

  • ||

    Denver is hiring Mystery Shoppers!

    Struggling to pay for that new bike? Can you make more in a week than your mother? Does it pay a living wage?

    FIND OUT! Send your resume.

    Libertarians need not apply.

  • jimolivi@icloud.com||

    Oh brother. Yet another attempt at state control. First do-gooders decide that we can't smoke (the argument regarding smoking is for another day). The state sees this as a way to increase revenue, so the state raises taxes - to deter the proletariat from smoking because smoking is not good for them. Then, guess what, raising the price of tobacco works and restricts sales! But, now the state does not get the increase in revenue (well that was the real reason to raise taxes, wasn't it). So, they use entrapment to snare small businesses and squeeze them for more cash.

    Taxation truly is theft!

  • Hank Phillips||

    Orwell's version of this was the "Spies." This Hitlerjugend training kids as sumptuary law enforcement snitches is a rerun. Herbert Hoover's Administration provided a lot of funding for purchases of wine, light beer, and other dangerously addictive and fatal "narcotics." But as soon as the financial collapse foreshadowed by the 1929 market crash became generalized in 1932-33 (and God's Own Prohibitionists lost the elections) Congress banned the hiring of stoolies and undercover agents, wiretaps and use of bought evidence after hearings January 29, 1933. The "lame duck" Amendment concurrently made sure no prohibitionists like Herbert Hoover could ever again hold office from defeat in November to replacement in March.

  • Hank Phillips||

    "...the state could theoretically grab up to $7.5 million in citation revenue." And the economy could theoretically not collapse the way it did in 1929-33, 1987, and 2007. The problem with asset forfeiture transfers to "unproductive hands" was covered extensively in Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" long before it reappeared in "Atlas Shrugged."

  • Lily Bulero||

    Adam Smith was *such* a plagiarist, amirite?

  • Lily Bulero||

    OT - Too bad it's not summer any more, because the Food Network ran this: Oh, Go Ahead, It's Summer: Eat Dessert for Dinner.

    So that means...

    ...wait for it...
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    ...that they made a dessert, and called it dinner.

  • Lily Bulero||

    Alternate joke, re the Deep Dish Peach Pie:

    They made a dessert, and called it peach.

  • Kevin Crowley||

    They are having a difficult time keeping their percentage at "acceptable" levels, and want to recreate the problem....

  • Longtobefree||

    First, these evil entrapment agents should be paid $15.00/hr.
    Second, it is illegal for them to handle tobacco products.
    Third, the supposed law enforcement officials are in a conspiracy to corrupt minors.
    Fourthly, if any of these evil entrapment agents are (or identify as) female, the adults directing their actions in illegal trades are obviously sex traffickers.
    Fifth, everybody is Colorado is rocky mountain high anyway.

  • GreenLibertarian||

  • Procyon Rotor||

    FYTW

  • NoVaNick||

    My aunt used to send me to the corner store to buy her a pack of Trues (anyone remember them?) or Carltons when I was 8 or 9 and it cost 75 cents a pack (early 1980s). The guy working there would say jokingly "but you're too young to smoke" but sold them to me anyway.

    Fast forward forty years-tobacco and now vaping has become a perfectly acceptable area for the government to behave like an organized crime racket.

  • Leo Kovalensky||

    The profit motive is dangerous only when it's the motive of government.

  • Chasman1965||

    Nothing new about this. A friend of mine worked for a State health department, and they did the same thing. They had some 18 year old kids (19 is age you can buy cigs in that state), that they would send to places to buy cigarettes in sting operations. This was over 10 years ago.

  • ||

    Job creation!

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