State could lose funds as clerks fail to keep cigarettes from minors
OSHKOSH, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin could lose federal funds used to fight substance abuse because too many minors have been able to illegally buy cigarettes, according to a Department of Health and Family Services survey.
" If we' re going to reduce teen smoking, a big responsibility falls on retailers, " said Elizabeth August of the Winnebago County Tobacco Free Coalition. " The more access teens have to cigarettes, the more teens are going to smoke."
Officials sent teen-agers into stores across the state this summer to find out how often minors were able to illegally purchase tobacco products.
Clerks sold cigarettes to minors in one-third of store visits, according to Department of Health and Family Services results. Minors were able to buy cigarettes in one-quarter of visits last year.
Because national standards allow states to have no more than a 22 percent failure rate in selling tobacco to minors, Wisconsin could lose some of the $10 million it gets in federal substance abuse aid.
State health officials have talked with the federal government about minimizing the penalty.
Teens illegally buy more than 5 million packs of cigarettes per year, the Wisconsin Tobacco Control Board reported. Wisconsin retailers sold to teens this year at a 9 percent higher rate than in 2000.
As a general rule, stores ask for identification from anyone appearing to be less than 27 years old, but others card everyone.
Employees at Oshkosh' s Lang Oil have a firm instruction: No ID, no cigarettes.
" I' d rather not make a sale if they don' t have an ID, " said owner Jim Lang. " Some people get put off by it, but so be it. Some 20-year-olds look like they' re 30. You never can tell."
Clerks who sell to minors can be fined $500 on their first offense and can lose their tobacco sales license on subsequent offenses.
Despite this summer' s survey, prevention programs appear to have been effective in diluting the tobacco industry' s influence, August said.
Statistics show that 33 percent of teens reported smoking in 2000, while 38 percent of students smoked in 1999.
" There' s much more awareness out there, " August said. " People understand the dangers."