Strengthen efforts to stop teen smoking


IF WE ARE SERIOUS about preventing youth from starting smoking, there is more we could do, and there’s more we should do.

The reason we focus on youth is because the best prevention is making sure kids never start smoking. It’s a shame that even though the legal age that you’re allowed to buy tobacco products is 18, yet we see 7,400 kids younger than 18 become daily smokers in Wisconsin each year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“Approximately 80 percent of all adult smokers begin smoking before age 18,” State Health Officer Dr. Henry Anderson said.

So far we’ve had mixed success in Wisconsin. A report issued last week by the Department of Health Services showed that the rate of tobacco sales to minors increased from 4.7 to 7.3 percent over the past five years.

That’s well below federal regulations, which set a 20 percent threshold for tobacco sales to minors. Still, we’d be more optimistic if the trend were holding steady or decreasing.

But there are things we can do at the local, state and national levels.

. First, retailers should be heavily encouraged to take the free online training available at, which provides them guides on the state’s tobacco sales laws, how to make a legal sale and the resources available to combat it.

In an annual report, the state reported that among the challenges it faces in complying with federal regulations for retail training is the lack of enforcement statewide.

. Second, more money should be budgeted to help with state efforts to enforce laws restricting youth access to tobacco. The report said: ``Due to a limited budget, funding supports only voluntary law enforcement involvement and no funding is available for materials tailored directly to law enforcement.’’

Yes, we’re asking for more money in the state budget, but there may be a way to recoup the money spent on law enforcement efforts, which leads us to our third point.

. Pass Assembly Bill 481, which was introduced by state Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay and enjoys bipartisan support.

Bies’ bill would, in part, close a tax loophole that taxes cigarettes at a much higher rate than cigars, cigarillos, moist snuff, chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco. If the taxes on those products is brought up to the level of cigarettes, perhaps the added revenue could be used to offset efforts to enforce tobacco laws. Plus, it would make them less affordable to youth.

. Fourth, pressure tobacco companies to clearly label their products. Right now, some companies sell cigars with grape, cherry or chocolate flavoring in packaging that looks very similar to candy packaging. This is not done accidentally. It’s done to sell tobacco products.

If any of these measures help kids from becoming addicted to nicotine, if they reduce the affordability and availability, we must make the effort before more children pick up a lifetime addiction. — Green Bay Press-Gazette, Dec. 9

At issue:
Preventing teen smoking
Bottom line:
Further steps needed

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