It continues to get harder for minors to purchase tobacco products in Winnebago County. Ninety-four businesses licensed to sell tobacco products were checked in 2010 to see if they would sell products to people under the age of 18. Only five of the businesses sold tobacco to minors, for a non-compliance rate of 5.3 percent — a 20 percent drop from the 25.2 percent countywide non-compliance rate in 2009.
“That’s a huge drop,” said Emily Dieringer, coordinator of re:TH!NK, the Lakeshore Tobacco Prevention Network. “In the past few years, Winnebago County has generally been one of the top three in the high category for non-compliance. Now we’re way below where we usually come in at, so that’s really positive.”
This was the first time Winnebago County has had a non-compliance rate less than 10 percent.
Blue Moose Convenience Store, 208 Bowen St., sees a lot of people under 18 try to buy tobacco products, but the store has taken steps to make sure they aren’t successful.
Store Manager Kasey Knudson said she tells her employees to ask for identification from every person buying tobacco unless it is obvious they are over 18. She said she will ask to see identification even if she has seen the person in the past.
“I always tell my employees if you’re guessing you need to check their ID,” Knudson said. “It’s very important.”
While Winnebago County dropped, sales to minors in re:TH!NK’s nine-county region of Northeast Wisconsin increased slightly in 2010 to 11.1 percent compared to 10.2 percent in 2009. Dieringer said some of that increases in some counties could be due to a decrease in funding resulting in fewer compliance checks being carried out.
The low number of businesses in Winnebago County that sold tobacco to minors can be attributed to an increased awareness of the law — including knowing the checks will be taking place and better training in how to properly read identification.
Dieringer said half of the sales to minors took place after their identification was checked.
The employee at the businesses that did sell tobacco to minors received a citation and the business owner is also sent a letter, Dieringer said. The amount of the citation varies depending on what municipality it was issued in, but a citation issued by the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office carries a fine a $243.