Bendigo retailers caught out in smokes sting

MINORS have bought cigarettes from more than half the stores tested in a City of Greater Bendigo sting operation. 

The council hired a 16-year-old girl to buy cigarettes from 20 stores last week, and 13 outlets sold her cigarettes.

The council’s environment health and local laws manager Susannah Milne said the results were disappointing. “It is more than half, so we are a little disappointed,” she said 

“But we also see this as an opportunity to bring it to the community’s attention through the media and also with the other retailers that this can happen and that we do go out there and do this program.”

Ms Milne said the youth was hired through the state government, with strict guidelines on their appearance. 

While the minors are supposed to look their age, one person busted in the operation said the girl had been dressed up to appear older. 

“She looked over 18, otherwise I would have asked her for ID,” the store owner, who asked not be named, said. 

“It’s not fair... if you sent a normal 16-year-old in, I’d ask for ID, but someone that is dressed smart and looks older, it’s not fair. They’re a pack of mongrels.” 

A worker at another store targeted several years ago said the girl sent in to buy cigarettes had been dressed to appear older. 

“They certainly look older than what they are,” they said. “It’s trickery... I wouldn’t want my daughter to be used in that way.”

Ms Milne said most of the people caught in the sting said they thought the person was over 18. 

But Department of Health spokesman Bram Alexander said that was no excuse. “The onus is on the seller to make sure the person is over 18.”

Mr Alexander said there were $563 fines for individuals and $8450 for companies caught selling to minors, and magistrates could impose fines of $16,900 for individuals and $84,500 for companies. 

Multiple offenders can be disqualified from selling cigarettes for up to five years, but most locals caught in the sting are likely to only face warnings.