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MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is serious about its new public education campaign. As the name “Tobacco 21” indicates, age 21 is the minimum legal sales age for tobacco and vape products – no matter what.

Citing the Synar Surveys – a statewide assessment of the retailer violation rate for underage sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, or vapes – the DHS recently found the rate was 11.9% last year. That was down from a record-high 14.1% rate in 2021 but still more than double the pre-COVID-19 pandemic rate of 5.5%.

The DHS noted in a news release that the rise in illegal tobacco/vape product sales followed the federally mandated increase in the legal tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 that took effect at the end of 2019. In addition, Wisconsin’s statewide retailer inspection program was also interrupted due to the pandemic during 2020-21.

“Nearly 7,900 Wisconsinites die every year from preventable tobacco-related disease. Young people can become addicted before they are old enough to understand the risks,” DHS Deputy Secretary Deb Standridge said in a news release. “Following the Tobacco 21 law can save lives.”

Tobacco 21 campaign

The DHS’s new Tobacco 21 campaign will include messages for both the public and tobacco retailers and includes television and digital ads, social media posts, and in-store signage.

“We thank the majority of Wisconsin retailers who comply with federal law and do their part to prevent underage tobacco and vape use, but we’re still very concerned by the high rate of noncompliance,” said Standridge. “Tobacco retailers are obligated to follow the federal law and make sure that they only sell tobacco and e-cigarettes to customers who are age 21 and older.”

Learn more about the federal Tobacco 21 law in Wisconsin on the DHS website. Free training to help retailers comply with the Tobacco 21 sales law is available at Wisconsinites who want help to quit commercial tobacco can call 1-800-QUIT NOW or text “READY” to 200-400 for free assistance.

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...