Monday, February 8, 2016 - 9:26am

Improper Sales of Regular Tobacco Products to Minors Stay Consistent in Dane County

Every year at this time, PHMDC issues a report reviewing tobacco sales to minors in Madison and Dane County.  The information is gathered from compliance checks in which underage young people under the supervision of Public Health staff attempt to buy tobacco products.  If a sale is made, citations are issued to both the sales clerk and the business owner.     
These checks are made under the auspices of the Wisconsin Wins program, an evidence-based tobacco prevention program started in 2002 and funded by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.  The program uses a mix of education and oversight to keep kids away from tobacco products.  
During 2015, a local Wisconsin Wins team, consisting of a public health official and young volunteers conducted compliance checks at tobacco/nicotine retailers in Madison and Dane County.  In the City of Madison the team did compliance checks of 175 retailers, 32 of which sold tobacco products to the underage volunteers. This represented a non-compliance rate of 18%.   In the rest of Dane County (excluding Madison) 204 compliance checks resulted in 23 sales - an 11% sales rate. These compliance rates for tobacco/nicotine sales were relatively consistent with 2014 rates. 
“The 7% difference between the city and county data is concerning,” said Nina Gregerson, Assistant Coordinator for the Tobacco Free Columbia-Dane County Coalition. “The higher sales rate in the City of Madison might be attributable to such factors as Madison´s significantly lower citation fees than those in the rest of the county along with a lack of proper training of retail clerks. It is the business owners’ responsibility to make sure that all clerks receive required tobacco training before they are allowed to sell tobacco products.” Gregerson says the availability of a free training tool ( should make it easier for the owners to meet this requirement. 
2015 marked the beginning of efforts by Wisconsin Wins to extend compliance checks to cover such non-tobacco nicotine products as liquid nicotine and e-cigarettes – which are also illegal to sell to minors. The high rate of underage sales of these e-cigarette products in 2015 was also troubling. When the young volunteers in the City of Madison attempted to purchase e-juice, or liquid nicotine used for e-cigarette devices, they were successful in three out of the eight attempts.  One of the establishments checked was a vape shop.  The results in Dane County (excluding Madison) were even more disturbing, with underage sales made in three out of five attempts.  All three of these sales occurred at vape shops. “The big problem here is that e-cigarettes and related products are not yet regulated and there is currently no requirement that vape shops have to be licensed to sell their products,” said Gregerson.
Another major area of concern is how effective the retail clerks were in correctly checking the IDs of the young volunteer “inspectors” before selling them nicotine/tobacco products. In both Madison and Dane County, clerks made 55 illicit sales and actually asked to see IDs for 48 of those sales, suggesting that they were going through the motions of compliance without paying attention to the age of the buyers.  
Gregerson suggests that while training is required, many owners are simply not offering it and that filling this training gap would lead to better compliance.
In Madison, a first offense citation for selling tobacco/nicotine products to minors costs the business and the clerk $73.60 each.   In the rest of Dane County, the cost of a first offense is $232.  A second violation costs over $500 in both the city and the county.
Despite some of these problems, Gregerson feels that “the majority of tobacco and nicotine retailers in Madison and Dane County should be congratulated for consistently and correctly checking IDs and refusing the sale of these products to minors. Retailers are the first line of defense in limiting youth access to tobacco, so we definitely see them as partners in this effort,” concluded Gregerson.
Efforts to lower the rates of sale of tobacco and nicotine products to minors in 2016 will require continued outreach, education and efforts to promote increased regulations on e-cigarette sales.
For more information about the Wisconsin Wins program  or contact Nina Gregerson at (608) 216-3619 or
Click here for the  2015 City of Madison Tobacco/Nicotine Vendor Compliance Report and the 2015 Dane County (excluding Madison) Tobacco Vendor Compliance Report .  Click to see  City and county maps indicating the location of violations.
For more information on PHMDC tobacco control efforts


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