Sales of Tobacco and Nicotine Products to Minors in Madison Hits 10 Year High

Thursday, February 2, 2017 - 9:54am

19% of Retailers Sold Tobacco to Underage Buyers

Every year, Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) conducts unannounced compliance checks of tobacco retailers in Madison and Dane County in which underage young people under the supervision of Public Health staff attempt to buy tobacco products. During the checks conducted in 2016, 19% of all the retailers checked were caught selling tobacco products to the young volunteers.  

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.  
In the City of Madison, the team conducted 192 compliance checks. Of those, 36 establishments made non-compliant sales resulting in a 19% sales rate. “This is the highest sales rate the City of Madison has experienced since 2006,” said Nina Gregerson, Assistant Coordinator for the Tobacco Free Columbia-Dane County Coalition. “It’s unfortunate to see numbers creep up to the rates they were in the mid-2000s since there are many more resources out there to ensure retail clerks keep tobacco out the of the hands of our youth.”
When a non-compliant sale is made, citations are issued to both the sales clerk and the business owner. In some of these cases, the improper sales were made by establishments in business to serve adults, such as liquor stores, bars and tobacco shops.     
The team conducted an additional 208 compliance checks throughout the rest of Dane County (excluding Madison), and of those checked, 40 resulted in improper sales. The sales rate for the rest of the county jumped 8 percentage points from 11% in 2015 to 19% in 2016.
“Rates hovering around the 20 percent mark for both the city and the county are concerning because they suggest that 1 out of  5 underage youths are able to get their hands on tobacco or nicotine products in our area,” Gregerson pointed out.
Another alarming detail from the report found that 8 county retail establishments out of a total of 181 inspected had two or more violations in 2016. “Reminder letters are sent to retailers at the beginning of each year promoting the free and required online tobacco retailer training program. We also send follow up letters to the retailers after a violation occurs,” explains Gregerson. “So it’s really unsettling to see the same retailers constantly in violation of the law.” Gregerson plans on following up with those retailers to better understand if they may be experiencing barriers for getting the proper training.  Access to a free online training tool can be found at   
An ID check was actually performed by the sales clerk during the majority of the improper sales during both this and last year´s inspections. In 57 of the 76 sales that occurred in both the city and county, an ID was asked for and subsequently ‘checked’ by the clerk.  Gregerson says that “when we see that clerks are merely going through the motions of checking an ID, but not paying attention to the actual date of birth of the minor, the job is simply not getting done”. She emphasizes that education and proper training is needed to ensure tobacco and nicotine products stay out of the hands of Madison and Dane County youth. 
 “Nicotine addiction costs Dane County an estimated $290 million each year. It is our responsibility to drive down those costs and make sure a new generation does not become addicted to nicotine. We see tobacco and nicotine retailers as important partners in this effort, and want to help them make sure that those selling are properly trained,” says Gregerson.
Continued outreach and education will continue in 2017 to help lower the rates of sale of tobacco and nicotine products to minors.  Click here for more information about the Wisconsin Wins program, or contact Nina Gregerson at (608) 243-0434 or
2016 City of Madison Tobacco & Nicotine Compliance Report
2016 Dane County (excluding Madison) Tobacco & Nicotine Compliance Report


Health & Safety