VernonReporter

Crawford County Health Department says underage tobacco, nicotine sales on the rise in Wisconsin

Troubling trends amidst continued confusion around law

In 2023 the underage tobacco sales rate jumped to 13.6% from just 5.5% in 2019, according to the Synar Survey, Wisconsin’s annual assessment of retailer violation rates for underage tobacco sales. Wisconsin risks losing millions of dollars of federal funding if this rate continues to increase.

In 2019 Tobacco 21 became federal law, changing the legal age for sale of commercial tobacco from 18 to 21. Since that time the Synar Survey has checked compliance with federal law. Wisconsin, however, is one of just eight states that has not changed the state law to match the federal law, creating confusion throughout the state. Wisconsin retailers are required to follow the federal tobacco sales law.

FDA inspectors actively enforce the federal Tobacco 21 law throughout the state, but local officials cannot enforce the legal tobacco sales age of 21 because they get their authority from state law.

State legislators have yet to bring Wisconsin into alignment with federal law. Doing so will allow local law enforcement to prevent youth and young adults access to commercial tobacco and nicotine products. Wisconsin Wins is a statewide tobacco retailer outreach and inspection program. Wisconsin Wins conducts inspections and provides retailers with the tools and training to prevent underage sales. With a change to the law, Wisconsin Wins can carry out many more retailer inspections.

This confusion about the differing laws makes access to tobacco too easy for youth and young adults, putting them at risk for a lifetime of addiction to nicotine. Statistics show that 95% of current tobacco users say they started using before they turned 21.

A state law that aligns with the federal Tobacco 21 law could powerfully impact the current and future health of all Wisconsinites. For more information about youth tobacco and nicotine use in Wisconsin, refer to the 2022 Wisconsin Youth Tobacco Survey High School Fact Sheet.

Wisconsinites can access the free Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line by texting READY to 34191. Residents aged 13 and up can also reach the Quit Line 24/7 by calling 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) or by visiting WiQuitLine.org.

Teens 13-17 who specifically want to quit vaping can text VAPEFREE to 873373 for free help via text. The American Indian Quit Line at 888-7AI-QUIT (888-724-7848) offers free culturally tailored support for indigenous people who want to quit commercial tobacco.

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