E-cigarettes now included in WI tobacco retailer checks

In 2014 La Crosse County had a 17 percent youth access rate to tobacco products

A Wisconsin initiative to stop the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to minors will now include e-cigarettes.

Every year, Wisconsin’s WIN program conducts dozens of tobacco compliance checks at local retailers to make sure they aren’t selling to minors.         

In 2002, the tobacco compliance check included items like cigarettes, cigars and chew but this year, the state is now adding e-cigarettes to the list.

One health educator said it’s in response to a new survey that found e-cigarette use among high schoolers and middle schoolers tripled last year in Wisconsin.       

“It’s mandatory that ID’s get checked,” said John McHugh, the manager corporate communications and leadership development  for Kwik Trip.

Under Wisconsin law, retailers have to check ID’s when selling alcohol and tobacco products but it does not include e-cigarettes, because some contain nicotine and some don’t.

Although it’s not federally mandated, at Kwik Trip, all e-cigarettes are treated the same.

“Age restricted products are always kept behind the counter. Only our workers have access to those,” said McHugh. “As soon as that product is scanned at the register, the register automatically asks the coworker to check ID.”

But that’s not the case at all retailers.

“There are some businesses in rural areas that don’t have that technology,” said Alison Glodowski, a health educator with La Crosse County Health and Human Services.

That makes it easier for some minors to get away with buying tobacco products.

“In 2014, La Crosse County had a 17 percent youth access rate to tobacco products,” said Glodowski.

That number is more than double the state’s rate of 6.4 percent. In an effort to reduce the access to minors, e-cigarettes will be added to the state’s tobacco retailer check list.

“Nicotine has lasting impact on adolescent brain development, so ultimately we want to protect teens from getting involved with any nicotine product,” said Glodowski.

McHugh and Glodowski agree that limiting access to minors starts at the check-out.

“If someone who is underage tries to buy from Kwik Trip, and we deny that sale, and we lose that sale or lose that customer, we are perfectly fine with that,” said McHugh.

“If that company denies the youth the sale, they are following the law. It is a win for us and Wisconsin and for them,” said Glodowski.

Here’s how the tobacco checks work: a teenager with the program will go into a store and try to buy a tobacco product. If the teen is denied, that store is recognized for following the law. If the store employee makes the sale to the minor, the store manager is told about the illegal sale, and the police are notified.

This year, La Crosse County’s WIN program will be conducting about 58 compliance checks throughout the area.