An uptick in the number of retailers in Kenosha County selling tobacco products illegally to minors has spurred concerns by an anti-tobacco group.
According to the Kenosha Racine Walworth Tobacco Coalition, six retailers in Kenosha County sold tobacco to undercover minors during random compliance checks of 34 tobacco-licensed businesses over the last few months.
Last year, no retailers sold to underage minors during the checks.
Michelle Sandberg, coordinator for KRW Tobacco-Free Coalition, attributed the rise in sales to carelessness.
She said that at each location, with one exception, clerks asked youths for their identification.
“Youth IDs clearly state the ‘under 18 until’ date as well as the ‘under 21 until’ date ... so no math or calculations are required. Unfortunately, it seems the clerks just didn’t take the time to actually read the ID,” Sandberg said. “Some locations have electronic scanners that ‘read’ the IDs for the clerk, making it very easy to stop the transaction.”
At one location, she said, the clerk even overrode the system, selling the product to the youth “despite the system trying to stop the sale.”
She said the six locations that did sell to youth were established businesses that have been in operation for quite some time.
“I’ve reached out to all locations that made sales to youth and provided additional resources and training to help ensure compliance,” Sandberg said.
Consequences for businesses that sell to minors include fines of up to $500, according to the Wisconsin Wins website. If a citation is issued to the retailer, it may also be issued to the clerk.
Illegal sales can also result in the business’ license being suspended anywhere from three days to a month, depending of the number of violations.
“We encourage all clerks selling tobacco to consistently card anyone who looks under the age of 27 and to refuse the sale of tobacco product without proper verification of age,” she said. “I’m hopeful we can get back on track and have zero sales during the next round of checks.”
Information sent to retailers
During the latest round of checks, 50 retailers in the county were sent packets of information, including all the locations that had been inspected.
The packets contained an information card from the state informing the store manager of the “hassle-free” employee training available online at www.WITobaccoCheck.org, as well as a message about the upcoming tobacco checks.
Sandberg said the exact date of the compliance check isn’t provided, only that it will be made soon. She also gives the retailers contact information so they can call her if they have questions.
“Of all the mailers, only one retailer did contact me to ensure her location had all employees properly trained. Not surprisingly, that store did not sell to our youth investigators,” she said.
Sandberg said the Federal Drug Administration is announcing the availability of a digital age verification calendar as part of the “This is Our Watch” voluntary retailer education program. The digital calendar is currently being mailed to retailers in the U.S.
The voluntary program provides free materials to help retailers understand how to comply with tobacco regulations. The materials also emphasize the retailer’s role in protecting the nation’s youth from the harms of tobacco use, she said.
Different time frame
While last year’s compliance checks took place over the calendar year from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, Wisconsin Wins shifted its cycle going forward to July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 for funding purposes.
As a result, the local program released data for the compliance checks for the half year.
“Because the time frame was shortened by half, the percentage of checks was also reduced by half,” she said.
During the upcoming full contract period (July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020), Kenosha County will have 104 tobacco checks. The number of tobacco checks conducted is based on a percentage of the total tobacco retail licenses issued by the county.