“He just sold it to me even though he wasn’t supposed to,” Brown said.
The legal age to purchase tobacco in Wisconsin is 18, and Brown, a member of the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention & Poverty Network (WTPPN) FACT group, part of Wisconsin’s youth led tobacco prevention movement, went to the store as part of his participation in the Wisconsin Wins program. Wisconsin Wins is an initiative to reduce teen tobacco use through education and compliance checks of retailers who sell tobacco. In the City of Milwaukee tobacco was sold to minors during nearly 19 percent of compliance checks in 2017, a drop from nearly 25 percent in 2016. A total of 378 compliance checks were conducted in the city last year.
The owner of the store where Brown was able to purchase tobacco denied that he sold it to him. But police accompany the teens on their compliance checks, and are hand to issue a municipal citation shortly after the illegal purchase, as was the case with Brown. The incident resulted in Brown having to attend two court sessions, as the owner bitterly fought his ticket before finally pleading no contest and paying his fine.
“I don’t know why he just didn’t admit it, he sold it right to me,” Brown said.
Retailers who sell tobacco to minors are subject to a fine of up to $500 for the first offense while subsequent offenses within 12 months result in temporary suspensions of their tobacco license.
Brown said he doesn’t understand why anyone would sell tobacco to a minor, knowing it could damage their business, reputation, and most importantly the health of young people by selling them a product that often leads to a deadly addiction.
Most adult smokers started in their teens, a fact that is well known by Lila Johnson,17, also a member of the WTPPN FACT. Johnson also conducted scans as part of the Wins program. She said she did so to to become more involved in helping youth remain smoke-free.
“I want to help as many young people as possible avoid a deadly habit they might never be able to kick,” said Johnson, who joined FACT after seeing teens she knew using tobacco.
Danielle Foster, 16, a member of Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network FACT group, also based in Milwaukee, conducted compliance checks as well this summer. She said for the most part, they went very smoothly. But, she has heard from other teens that there are store owners who do sell to minors. She hopes those who are caught learn their lesson after receiving a fine.
“They need to know there are consequences for them when they sell to minors,” Foster said.