“Darth Vaper”: Bainbridge Public Safety busts five tobacco stores in undercover investigation

Published 2:01 pm Thursday, August 17, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Vaping has been a rising trend over the last several years; one side effect of this has been an increase in teenagers caught vaping. In response to complaints from several local parents, Bainbridge Public Safety began an undercover investigation into multiple vape and tobacco shops in town. This has resulted in employees from five shops being charged with the distribution of tobacco to minors.

BPS Investigator Mark Esquivel spoke with the Post-Searchlight about the operation and how it came to be. “It started with us getting numerous complaints from parents,” he explained. According to these complaints, the parents specified that the kids had gotten vapes from vape stores. In addition to complaints, BPS officers have also reported finding vapes during searches of underage individuals.

This led to the creation of operation “Darth Vaper”, headed up by Investigator Joshua Glover, which consisted of sending in an undercover officer under the age of 21 (following the raise in the minimum age for tobacco products from 18 to 21 under the Trump administration). According to Esquivel, the undercover officer was successfully able to make purchases at OM Liquor Store, The Vape Shop, DJs’s Smoke and Tobacco, DJ’s Smoke Heaven, and Bainbridge Tobacco and Vape. While the officer was under the age of 21, the complaints filed were for minors under the age of 18. Following the gathering of evidence, the individual employees that committed the crimes were charged and given a set date to turn themselves in, with most being arraigned on Wednesday; four of these pled guilty, and two were adjudicated as guilty.

Email newsletter signup

Conviction of these charges comes with a fine; additionally, the charges have been passed on to the Georgia Department of Revenue, which handles alcohol and tobacco issues at the state level, for any further potential penalties at the state level.

That being said, the investigation also revealed that some parents have been seen buying vapes for their children. “We can’t stop kids, or people who are over the age of 21, from giving them to these juveniles,” Esquivel said. “We just want to make it harder for these juveniles to go into these vape shops and purchase on their own.”

According to Glover, in light of these arrests, some of the business owners have already begun taking measures to improve ID verification for purchases. This is a situation BPS aims to continue monitoring.

“It’s very dangerous, especially to the youth in the community,” Esquivel said. “We’re gonna do everything we can.”