Funding cuts blamed for increased tobacco sales to minors

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, January 3, 2014

BELOIT—Illegal tobacco sales to minors in Wisconsin rose substantially for the first time since 2008, according to a Wisconsin Department of Health Services' report.

The 2013 sales compliance survey, which determines the number of retail outlets selling tobacco illegally to minors statewide, shows that number increased by 35 percent from 2009 to 2012.

Reductions in tobacco prevention funding is to blame, said Debbie Fischer, director of Youth2Youth of Rock County and the Southwest Alliance for Tobacco Prevention.

“We are funded at the lowest we have ever been funded except when there was no funding,” Fischer said.

The Center for Disease Control recommends Wisconsin prevention efforts be funded at more than $60 million, but Wisconsin is funded at $5.4 million, she said.

Funding cuts mean the local coalition can conduct compliance checks only once a year instead of three times a year, Fischer said.

“We haven't been able to do as many checks since funding cuts started drastically three years ago and retailers have learned we aren't checking as often,” she said.

Fischer said some retailers aren't training their employees about the tobacco sales law even though free training is available through the Wisconsin Wins program.

Managed by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the program at smokecheck.org educates staff about sale situations to help keep tobacco out of the hands of kids. Employees can take a short test and print a certificate of training if they pass, Fischer said.

When Youth2Youth started compliance checks more than 15 years ago, tobacco sale rates to minors were as high as 37 percent. Sales at the last check were around 6 percent countywide, but there was a time when they were as low as 3 percent, Fischer said.

“So even though a majority of Rock County business still do not sell to our kids, the number (of sales to minors) is starting to creep back up,” she said.

And that concerns Fischer, who said tobacco prevention funding could continue to dwindle.

“Even though tobacco prevention has been strong and made incredible strides, you can't do it with very little money that keeps getting less and less,” she said.

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