Home Runs and Strike Outs
(August 16, 2016)
Can kids still buy tobacco products in Wisconsin? Has all of our hard work and education paid off? The answer is both yes and no, according to the Wisconsin Wins (WI Wins) campaign.
WI WINS is a science-based initiative designed to decrease youth access to tobacco products by prohibiting retail sales. Each county that is part of the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Control Program network receives funding to conduct tobacco sales compliance checks throughout their communities. Youth, accompanied by an adult, attempt to purchase tobacco products from local retailers. These youth carry ID that clearly shows them to be underage; they also are not allowed to lie about their age if asked.
The Dodge/Jefferson/Waukesha county coalition just completed a total of 143 checks. Dodge and Jefferson retailers passed with flying colors, with only one sale in Dodge (out of 34) and NO sales in Jefferson, giving them success rates of 98.1% and 100% respectively.
On the other hand, out of 77 retailers checked in Waukesha, eight sold to minors for a fail rate of almost 10%. While this may not seem like a catastrophe, the fail rate in Waukesha County in 2015 was only 1.8%. In only one year, tobacco sales to minors increased five-fold!
To what do we attribute this alarming increase? Primarily to the proliferation of other tobacco products (OTPs) – little cigars, e-cigarettes, snus, and others. Unlike traditional cigarettes, where youth smoking rates have dropped to historic lows, OTP use is rising dramatically.
Why? Several reasons.
Price. Because of an inconsistency in state law, cigarettes are considerably more expensive, thanks to a high tax -- $2.52 per pack – bringing the total price up to anywhere from $6 to $10. However, the tax on cigars (including a package of 20 little cigars) caps off at 50 cents, making them a bargain compared to cigarettes. In Wisconsin, there is NO tax on e-cigarettes, making them even more affordable.
Secondly, federal law prohibits flavored cigarettes. No so with OTPs. In fact, despite new rules governing these products, manufacturers may STILL offer candy and fruit flavored products. A shocking number of kids who NEVER TRIED A CIGARETTE are now experimenting with OTPs, because of the flavors and low prices.
Finally, packaging and package placement is also designed to entice kids. Colorful, eye-catching packages that mimic well-known kid products such as Big League Chew, mints and other popular items are often placed very near candy and in other areas where kids are known to shop.
Despite our successes, clearly there is more work to be done. Wisconsin will introduce its biennial budget early in 2017. After repeated cuts to this valuable and results-driven program, some degree of funding MUST be restored to continue the make progress in the fight against tobacco. We urge you to help us in this and other tobacco control efforts by joining our Lung Action Network!