A Spike in Tobacco Sales to Minors in Dane County Raises Many Concerns
Ongoing Enforcement and Education is Key
The first line of defense in preventing tobacco use and upholding the laws preventing the sale of tobacco to those under 18 are retail employees.
A key element in supporting efforts to keep kids away from tobacco products is the Wisconsin Wins program. Wins is an evidence based tobacco prevention program funded by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Wins is built on an effective mix of education and oversight to help prevent illegal retail tobacco sales to minors. Oversight is provided by local public health staff working with youth inspectors aged 16-17 to conduct unannounced inspections at local tobacco retail establishments.
Wins inspections consist of the youth inspectors attempting to purchase a tobacco product. If they are able to purchase a tobacco product, PHMDC (Public Health - Madison and Dane County) issues citations to the employee and to the establishment where the sale occurred. This helps track retailer compliance with Wisconsin’s tobacco sales laws. The Wins program also provides free training and educational resources that help clerks understand and comply with the law. They also actively engage in community outreach and education to communicate the importance of preventing youth access to tobacco.
While Wisconsin Wins has delivered measurable results since its debut in 2001, there is still work to be done in Dane County. In 2014, 329 tobacco retail establishments were inspected in Dane County. Of those, 51 establishments sold a tobacco product to a minor, resulting in a non-compliance rate of 15.5%. In 2013, Dane County had a sales rate closer to 9%.
“This is the highest non-compliance rate we have seen since 2006,” said Ryan Sheahan, the Coordinator for the Tobacco Free Columbia-Dane County Coalition. “While we are pleased with the efforts - checking IDs and refusing sales to minors - taken by the majority of retailers, new data showing a notable spike in the non-compliance rate to over 15% raises many concerns.”
Another very troubling detail that the compliance checks uncovered in 2014 was the sharp differences in sales rates among different vendor types. Vendor types include gas stations and convenience stores, liquor stores, grocery stores, bars/restaurants, and pharmacies, among others. 2014 data showed that pharmacies in Dane County had the highest non-compliance rate among vendors, with a sales rate of more than 30% - or almost double the average rate.
There are many factors that may contribute to this spike in tobacco sales to youth including lack of training and education. Many clerks do check the ID’s as required, but the variety of licenses and IDs out there can be confusing. “Our big challenge is to help educate and train retailers and clerks since we consider them to be key partners in keeping tobacco out of the hands of youth,” Sheahan said.
Continued education and outreach will be needed in 2015 to lower the rates of sales of tobacco products to minors. The 2014 Wisconsin Youth Tobacco Survey discovered that while youth smoking rates have hit an all time low, the use of other tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, little cigars and electronic cigarettes, are rising dramatically.
Free training is available at https://www.smokecheck.org/, which is funded by Wisconsin’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. State law requires that all retailers train their employees and have a certificate in the employee’s file stating that they have completed mandatory tobacco training. More details about the Wisconsin Wins program.
A copy of the Madison-Dane County 2014 Tobacco Vendor Compliance Report can be found online by clicking on the title.
- Jeff Golden, Public Health Madison Dane County, (608) 243-0302, email@example.com