Licking County establishments that sell alcohol and tobacco are warned that an underage person who tries to buy one or both may not be whom he or she seems.
"Ours is not a sting operation," said Lewis Mollica, community impact coordinator for the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Licking County, of the Reward and Reminder initiative to recognize business owners and establishments that refuse to sell alcohol or tobacco to minors.
But those who do sell to an underage consumer can be in plenty of trouble, Mollica said.
Reward and Reminder, an initiative of Our Futures in Licking County that was introduced in October 2009, sends teams of trained adults and children to visit establishments and attempt to purchase alcohol or tobacco, Mollica said.
The clerks who do not sell are recognized immediately and given a gift certificate or card to a local business as well as a thank you. In addition, the store manager or owner receives recognition via a letter and certificate of appreciation.
Clerks who would have sold are reminded of the law, which seems to be having an effect, Mollica said.
This year, Our Futures has visited 28 establishments and all 28 received a reward. Last year, of the 60 to 70 establishments visited, six were ready to sell to a minor.
"We are very pleased with that," said Mollica, adding that although some establishments were willing to sell to minors, six was a small number.
"If there appears to be a sale pending, we stop it before it's consummated," he said.
The authorities are not contacted, but the clerk's employer is notified of the impending illegal sale.
Mollica said the Reward and Reminder program is gaining community recognition.
"Establishments are catching on to it," Mollica said.
He said the bottom line is that minors acquire alcohol and tobacco through adults by some means.
"We're making it even less realistic for teens to use that avenue (of businesses)," Mollica said.
Realistically, Mollica said, most youths will experiment with alcohol, tobacco or drugs. He said statistics show that the older the child is before experimentation, the less likely he or she is to become an addict later in life.
The Reward and Reminder program's goal is to reduce the number of illegal sales and thus reduce the number of addicts.
Our Futures in Licking County is a countywide coalition of community leaders dedicated to creating a healthier Licking County by improving educational, social, safety and economic environments by reducing the use and abuse of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
Mollica said a $125,000 annual federal grant plus private contributions fund the coalition.