Number of WI Retailers Selling Tobacco to Minors Inching Closer to 10%

teen-smoking-e-cigaretteMore Wisconsin kids are being sold tobacco products illegally, according to new data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The data comes from the 2016 Synar survey, which examines the number of retailers that sell tobacco to minors. The 2016 rate of 7.2% is up from 6.8% in 2015 and 6.4% in 2014.

While Wisconsin remains below the national average of 10%, local health advocates say there’s reason for concern. “The fact is that a number of the tobacco products being sold in stores are highly appealing to youth,” says Judy Sargent, Public Health Nurse, Lincoln County Health Department. “Preventing these sales is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to protecting kids and improving the health of our community.”

One major difference between the 2016 Synar survey and previous years is that it includes all tobacco products instead of only cigarettes. Sargent states, “The timing for the change is good. The days where we could only look at underage sales of cigarettes are long gone. More and more youth are turning to e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products, so it’s important that surveys like this one look at the whole tobacco picture.”

Lincoln County’s retail sale rate is 10%, higher than the Wisconsin 2016 rate and equal to the national rate of sales to minors. Reasons for this higher sale rate may be due to:

  1. Clerks checking ID’s, but misreading them. Currently there are three versions of Wisconsin ID’s in circulation.
  2. Clerks not asking to see an ID.
  3. Tobacco products not being placed behind the counter so they are easily accessible to youth.

Local health advocates believe education is the key to driving the state’s sale rate back down. To achieve that, the statewide Wisconsin WINS program provides free retailer training through This website provides information on Wisconsin tobacco sales laws so that retailers can avoid the costly fines that come with underage sales. The site also emphasizes the importance of verifying every customer’s age before making a tobacco sale.“We all win when tobacco is kept out of our kids’ hands,” says Sargent. “We definitely encourage local tobacco retailers to visit or contact us if they would like to learn more about what they can do to prevent future underage sales.”

For additional information on the WI WINS program contact Judy Sargent, Public Health Nurse, Lincoln County Health Department, at 715-539-1377, or

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