Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Wisconsin and claims over 7,000 lives in Wisconsin each year. Many tobacco users struggle with quitting even though they know the products are bad for their health—that’s how strong the addiction is. One thing most of tobacco users have in common is that they started young.
The Wisconsin Wins Program is a state-mandated tobacco compliance check program sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. During the compliance checks, an underage youth (16-17) will attempt to purchase tobacco or nicotine-containing products from a number of tobacco retailers. The youth use real IDs and are always truthful so there is no trickery involved—we want to see the retailers pass. Both owners and clerks are subject to citations issued from local law enforcement for illegal sales. This program helps keep tobacco out of the hands of youth.
Cigarette smoking is declining among high schoolers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, e-cigarettes continue to be on the rise among teenagers. Wisconsin had 20.1 percent of high school students report e-cigarette use in 2018 compared to 13.3 percent in 2016 and 7.9 percent in 2014.
Wisconsin Wins compliance checks do include e-cigarettes and e-liquid containing nicotine. Wisconsin law states no retailer may sell cigarettes, nicotine products or tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. So far in 2019, eight retailers have sold tobacco and nicotine products to teens in Marathon County. This surpasses the seven sales in 2018, and we still have more checks to do this year.
A large majority of our retailers do not sell to minors, and we thank them for protecting youth from the unhealthy effects of tobacco.
Retailers are required by law to train clerks in how to read identification cards to verify age. Retailers can train their employees for free at witobaccocheck.org. When we all work together to keep tobacco out of the hands of youth, retailers face fewer penalties and minors have a harder time making illegal purchases.
Samantha Pinzl, MPH, CHES, Marathon County Health Department