This letter was in the March 26, 2013, Tomahawk Leader:
Wisconsin has made great strides in decreasing youth tobacco use in Wisconsin. In 2000, a third of Wisconsin high school students regularly smoked. Today that number stands at 13.1%.
Limiting underage sales of tobacco products has played a key role in decreasing youth smoking in Wisconsin. Sales to minors have decreased a remarkable 80% since 2001 as a result of the Wisconsin Wins program. This program is an initiative that includes compliance checks, local outreach and free online training for tobacco retailers. More details are available at www.wiwins.org.
The Wisconsin Wins program has been proven to work, however future progress may be threatened. The state currently funds the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Control Program at only $5.3 million. That might sound like a big number, but the tobacco industry spends 25 times that amount every year to market their products in Wisconsin.
The reductions to the statewide tobacco program have also meant cuts to local prevention efforts. The Northwoods Tobacco-Free Coalition conducts compliance checks in Forest, Florence, Lincoln, Oneida, Price and Vilas counties. The number of Wisconsin Wins compliance checks in all six counties has decreased greatly over the last two years. That means fewer retailers are getting the information needed to help them avoid selling tobacco to minors and more youth may be able to access tobacco products.
Tobacco’s impact on Wisconsin is incredibly far-reaching. It takes nearly 8,000 lives each year and costs Wisconsin $4.5 billion annually in health care expenses and lost productivity. It is important to consider the significance of the Wisconsin Wins program and the successes the program has seen. However, there is still work to be done. Wisconsin Wins and the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program are a valuable investment and work to improve the health of our state.
Oneida County Health Department