WISCONSIN — Underage tobacco and vape sales increased in 2023, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Data from the Synar Survey, an annual statewide measurement of the retailer violation rate for underage sale of tobacco products, shows sales in 2023 increased to 13.6%, up from 11.9% in 2022.
However, the increase is not the highest the industry has seen. Sales reached their highest point in 2021 with a rate of 14.1%.
Since 2019, underage tobacco and vape sales have increased 140%, with the rate only being 5.5% in that year.
"Every year in Wisconsin, commercial and tobacco nicotine products cause 7,900 deaths, result in more than $3 billion in health care expenses, and cause more than $5.6 billion in lost productivity for our economy," said DHS Secretary-designee Kirsten Johnson in a press release. "We know that nearly all people who use commercial tobacco and nicotine start using in their teens and young adulthood. In fact, if a person doesn’t start by age 25, they almost never will. This data shows that we must continue the work to prevent young people from starting to use commercial tobacco and nicotine products."
The most recent Synar Survey monitored sales to those under age 21. Before the pandemic, that survey used to measure sales to those under 18 years old. The measurement changed in 2019 after federal law raised the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.
Despite this, Wisconsin is still one of eight states who have not yet changed their state law to match that federal law. Officials say this has caused confusion as well as enforcement challenges across the state.
To combat that, DHS launched a public awareness campaign, called Tobacco 21, to reinforce that residents must be 21 to legally buy tobacco and vape products. The campaign also protects funding for prevention programs and services.
DHS officials said that Wisconsin will lose millions in federal funding if underage tobacco sales exceed 20%. The current rate is inching dangerously close to that percentage.
State Health Officer and Division of Public Health Administrator Paula Tran said they are concerned with the “high rate of noncompliance.”
Retailers can find free training to help them comply with laws, here. Those who want to quit tobacco can visit WIQuit.org or can call 1-800-QUIT NOW or text "READY" to 200-400 for free assistance.