The Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance joined forces to conduct compliance checks
Cigarettes and other tobacco products (OTPs) are addictive, and they kill roughly 7,700 Wisconsinites each year. It is illegal to sell them to minors, but, unfortunately, not every retailer abides by the law. Estimates suggest that 20.7 percent (69,897) of Wisconsin’s high school students and 4.3 percent (9,339) of its middle school students smoke. That means youth are illegally accessing cigarettes and OTPs.
Recently, in an effort to prevent the sell of tobacco products to minors, the African American Tobacco Prevention Network and City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance teamed up with the Milwaukee City Police Department, to conduct compliance checks through the WI Wins program[ 2]. Compliance checks involve attempts by WI Wins minors to purchase cigarettes or OTPs from a local retailer.
The WI Wins program conducted 170 compliance checks across all seven police districts. Teams consisted of a police officer, two youth between ages 15 and 17, and an adult driver/chaperon. Of the checks conducted, 16 sells were made. This figure is alarming because it represents 9.4 percent of those compliance checks, and it is twice as high as the 2010 state reported percentage of tobacco sells to minors, which was 4.7 percent.
“The problematic issues we see in urban communities relate to compliance and reporting,” said Robert Cherry, coordinator, City of Milwaukee Tobacco Free Alliance. “We find that citizens are less likely to report seeing a vendor sell to youth in the city than they are in the suburbs, and this creates an environment where vendors are more likely to break the law.”
Retailers that violated the law and sold to the youth were ticketed on the spot. The penalties are stiff—up to $500 in citations and/or a suspension of retailer’s license for up to 30 days. Those who complied with state law were recognized and thanked for not selling to minors. Businesses also received education to help them stay in compliance with the law.
“Everyone wins when we all work together to keep tobacco out of our youth’s reach; retailers face fewer penalties, and minors have a harder time making illegal purchases that are addictive and harmful to their health,” said Lorraine Lathen, program director, Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network.
The WI Wins is a joint project of the City of Milwaukee Tobacco Free Alliance and the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN). It is implemented as an important component of Wisconsin’s comprehensive tobacco prevention program.
 The Burden of Tobacco in Wisconsin, 2010 Edition, American Cancer Society, WI Department of Health Services and the Tobacco Surveillance and Evaluation Program, University of Wisconsin.
 The Wisconsin Wins (WI Wins) program is a Statelevel initiative designed to decrease youth access to tobacco products. Launched in 2002, WI Wins works to assure compliance with the Federal Synar regulation that requires states to maintain a youth access rate of less than 20%. The program has successfully reduced youth access to tobacco from 33% to 4.7%.
 In 2010 the WI Wins program reported 4.7% of all compliance checks for the state resulted in a sell to a minor.