Fewer Dane County retailers selling tobacco to underage youth

Published: Feb. 16, 2018 at 6:19 PM CST
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Every year, Public Health madison and dane county conducts unannounced compliance checks on tobacco retailers.

Public Health hires 16 and 17-year-olds to enter stores and try to buy tobacco products using their real identification cards that show that they are underage. In 2016, almost 1 out of 5 stores checked in Dane County sold the product to the youth. According to the 2016 check, Madison and Dane County hit a 10 year high of non-compliant sales. This year, it's a different story.

In 2017, 182 compliance checks were conducted in Dane County (excluding Madison) for the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to minors. A variety of businesses including gas, convenience, department, grocery and liquor stores, bars and restaurants, tobacco and vape shops, pharmacies, bowling alleys, country clubs, and campgrounds were inspected. The compliance checks resulted in seven sales of tobacco or nicotine products to youth, giving the county (excluding Madison) a sales rate of 4%. This is significantly lower than the sales rate for 2016, which hovered around 20%.

For the City of Madison, 138 compliance checks were conducted in 2017. The inspections resulted in 18 sales of tobacco or nicotine to youth, giving the City of Madison a 13% sales rate. This is a 6% decrease from 2016.

This year, inspectors, aged 16-17, employed to conduct compliance checks were either born in 2000 or 2001. This may play a factor in why we saw a dramatic drop in sales this year. Even though an underage ID tells you the date when someone turns 18, the math involved to identify the age of those born in 2000 or 2001 isn’t too difficult. Also, the sheer fact that they are born in a different decade than the age for alcohol could be the first red flag for some retailers.

Another factor that could have contributed to the reduction in sales of tobacco or nicotine products could be the increase in clerks being properly trained. In response to the all-time high sales rates of 2016, Public Health staff increased promotion of the Wisconsin Tobacco Check online training. “We had the highest sales rate in both the city and county last year [2016]. It was clear that retail clerks were not receiving adequate tobacco or nicotine sales training. We encouraged clerks and business owners to complete the free online Tobacco Check training, with many completing and passing the training in 2016,” said Nina Gregerson, Public Health Specialist for Public Health Madison & Dane County. “Since the release of the updated Wisconsin Tobacco Check online training, approximately one-third of all Dane County retailers have logged on, activated their store, and have had staff complete the online training. Continued promotion of this free training will continue throughout 2018.”

A notable change moving into 2018 is an increased fine for businesses that sell tobacco or nicotine products to minors in the City of Madison. The citation has increased from $73.60 to $155.50 for businesses who violate the law and sell to minors. The citation for clerks remains at $73.60, with emphasizing completion of the Tobacco Check Training.

Tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Wisconsin and nationwide. Reducing youth access of tobacco and nicotine products remains a top priority to ensure a new generation doesn’t begin a lifelong addiction to nicotine.

The compliance check program is part of Wisconsin Wins, an evidence-based tobacco control program funded by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.