By Stephanie Stahl

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia is cracking down on illegal sales of tobacco products to minors. Smoking is the leading cause of death and disability in Philadelphia. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl visits some violators and reveals the underage and undercover operation.

“You were cited for selling cigarettes to a minor,” said Stahl to Hussein Laskar, the owner of Famous International Market in Northeast Philadelphia.

Laskar replied, “No, that’s not true.”

The manager of the Dominican Corner Store in the city said, “I’m not doing it.”

Stahl replied, “The health department says you are.”

It’s illegal, and it happens all over, stores sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to kids, under the age of 18.

A Philadelphia Health Department maps shows all the violations, 7,500 citations in two years.

Stahl told Laskar, “On September 29th, at 8pm you were sited for selling cigarettes to a minor.”

The owner replied, “That’s not true.” He initially denied it, but he quickly changed his story and said he fired the person who broke the law.

“It’s one of my employees here. She works here and she is no more,” said Laskar.

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It’s estimated 10 percent of Philadelphia teenagers smoke, one of the highest rates in the country. It often leads to a lifetime of medical problems, and that’s why the health department is working hard to stop illegal sales to minors.

“About 23 hundred Philadelphians die every year from smoking related diseases, and that creates huge healthcare costs and about 700 million dollars in productivity losses,” said Dr. Giridhar Mallya, Director of Policy and Planning with the Philadelphia Health Department.

RaeNa Johnson, who’s 18-years-old now, helped the health department catch the stores red handed. Starting at 14, she was part of a team of undercover minors who bought cigarettes, then turned them over as evidence.

“It seemed too easy actually,” said RaeNa. “Because we go into the stores, and it’s like I’m going to buy a whole pack of cigarettes and they just go ahead count my change like it was nothing,”

“I’m not selling to a minor,” said the manager of the Dominican Corner Store.

Stahl replied, “The health department says you are.” The manager finally admitted to paying a fine for selling cigarettes to a minor, but blamed somebody who worked there.

Stores are fined 250 dollars for each violation, but the health department says there are repeat offenders.

“It needs to be cut down. Yeah it needs to be cut down, and I have kids, and I wouldn’t want them selling it to my kids,” said Christine Rescigno, a Philadelphia mother.

Why would stores take a chance selling to minors? For some it’s an innocent mistake. But the health department says cigarette sales and tobacco advertising are profitable.

For more information, visit: SmokeFree Philly Illegal Youth Sales

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Stephanie Stahl