My name is Sonja Peterson and I am the new Tobacco-Free Coalition Coordinator for Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth counties. One of my responsibilities in this role includes working with Wisconsin Wins to fulfill their compliance checks. WI Wins is a program that works to prevent the sales of tobacco products to underage youth.
Since the Synar amendment in 1992, an amendment aimed at decreasing youth access to tobacco, youth smoking rates and underage tobacco sales have been going down each year. In 2019, the statewide average for underage sales was 5% of retailers. This was great news! However, the market has been flooded with flavored products that entice youth and are even designed to blend in with things they already have, like hoodies with a vape pen in place of the string. 89% of Wisconsin high school students say they would not use unflavored tobacco products, so why do these products still exist if not to keep youth hooked?
E-cigarette use is outpacing conventional cigarette use in Wisconsin and we don’t yet have the long-term data to know all the consequences that come with e-cigs. When the federal government changed the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21, the goal was to protect developing brains and decrease the number of people who begin using tobacco. 80% of adult users started before the age of 18 which is why there is a continued need for a program that ensures retailers do not sell to youth.
In order to prevent sales to minors, WI Wins runs compliance checks on retailers. These checks are not a surprise to retailers, who are informed about them ahead of time and given access to all the necessary training materials to ensure their employees know what to look for when checking IDs and completing sales. During these checks, trained minors are sent in to try and purchase tobacco products, which include e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and conventional cigarettes. If the sale is completed, the retailer is invited to complete further training and may be checked again. If the clerk refuses to sell to the minor, they are thanked for doing their part to keep tobacco out of the hands of the youth.
WI Wins offers free retailer training on avoiding underage tobacco sales through WiTobaccoCheck.org.
We should be proud of the strides we’ve made in reducing youth smoking rates, but we must stay committed to protecting kids from all tobacco products. We all win when retailers don’t sell tobacco to minors.
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