Milwaukee, WI— It is illegal to sell cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (OTPs) to minors. By state law, retailers are required to post signs warning patrons that only adults can purchase tobacco and to ask for a photo I.D.—such as a driver’s license or state I.D.—before selling tobacco. This year, 36 of 353 vendors across seven police districts sold to minors, totaling 10.2% of tobacco sells to minors in the City of Milwaukee compliance check sample. Milwaukee’s 2011 youth access percentage more than doubles the 2010 statewide reported percentage of tobacco sells to minors, which was 4.7%.
In Wisconsin, 11.3 % of surveyed youth said they, at one point, smoked cigarettes daily (at least one cigarette every day for 30 days), according to the 2009 Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). In addition, among students who were current smokers, 6.2% smoked more than 10 cigarettes per day on the days they smoked during the past 30 days, and 8.5% of the surveyed youth used chewing tobacco, snuff or dip on one or more of the past 30 days, according to YRBS.
The YRBS shows that youth are smoking and using tobacco products, but by law youth should not even have access to cigarettes or OTPs.To comply with federal regulations, Wisconsin implements the Wisconsin Wins (WI Wins) program, which is a science-based, statewide initiative purposed to reduce youth access to tobacco. To sustain a federally funded block grant, Wisconsin must maintain a youth access percentage below 20%. Failure to stay below the federal standard could result in a 40 percent cut to the grant for substance abuse prevention and treatment (roughly 10 million). Counties conduct compliance checks and share their county specific youth access data with the WI Wins Program to achieve the statewide percentage. Preliminary analysis of the 2011 data indicates that within the City of Milwaukee, youth access percentages vary. At a whopping 34.4 percent, Police District 5 has a youth access percentage that far exceeds the federally regulated 20 percent maximum and the 2010 statewide percentage (4.7%). District 5 is on the Northeast side of Milwaukee. The police station serving District 5 is located on Locust and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
“Implementing the WI Wins program is an important part of the work we do,” said Officer Tyshynsky, Milwaukee Police Department. “I’ve been doing WI Wins for about 15 years now, and each time we do it, the need for the program is validated by compliance checks results. I wish we could do more checks and do them more often because when retailers sell tobacco to minors, it affects our whole community.”
To conduct a compliance check, two minors enter a store and try to buy cigarettes and/or OTPs. A Milwaukee Police Department officer and an adult chaperone/driver are assigned to each pair of youth, but they remain behind the scenes until each check has been completed. Once the youth leave the store, one of two things happens; the team will either praise the vendor and reward him with a WI Wins sticker for not selling tobacco to a minor, or if he did, the officer will ticket him up to $500.00. Violators also risk a tobacco license suspension for up to 30 days.
“Youth access to tobacco is a community issue that affects everyone,” said Robert Cherry, coordinator,” City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance. “Most regular smokers became addicted before turning 18, so when retailers comply with state law, it contributes to reducing long-term public health issues within our communities and within our state.”
WI Wins uses positive reinforcement to reduce illegal tobacco sales to minors. It congratulates local clerks who do not sell tobacco to youth while educating those who would. This approach creates community pride by reducing youth access to tobacco products and by providing youth a chance to make a difference in their community.
“WI Wins is not about punishing tobacco retailers; it’s about educating businesses to help keep them in compliance with state law,” said Michael Campbell, project manger, WAATPN. “Tobacco use costs our state $4.5 billion dollars in healthcare and lost productivity costs each year; by not selling to youth, store owners are doing their part to prevent future generations, and our state, from experiencing the many harmful affects of tobacco use.”
In the City of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN) and the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance have partnered to implement WI Wins compliance checks.
Twenty-one youth, nine police officers and 16 adults participated in WI Wins for the City of Milwaukee in 2011. Everyone can support efforts to reduce youth access by reporting suspicious sells to police. Residents who suspect a violation can report it to their local police stations.
For more information on WI Wins visit www.wiwins.org.