Tobacco control programs have dealt powerful blows to the U.S. tobacco industry in recent months and years, due in part to smoke-free workplace laws in 27 states (including Wisconsin, which goes into effect July 5, 2010), creating a 62-cent federal tobacco tax (which went into effect in March) and establishing FDA regulation of tobacco industry practices. Though the tide may be turning in the battle against the tobacco industry, advocates caution, the tobacco companies won’t go down without a fight.
The tobacco companies are investing heavily in alternative smokeless tobacco products in order to respond to increasing regulations and smoke-free air laws. Examples of these alternative products include snuff and “snus,” which are spitless tobacco pouches users place under their upper lip.
The tobacco industry promotes smokeless tobacco products as less dangerous alternatives to smoking and markets products in kid-friendly flavors such as berry blend, mint and cherry. But, no matter what the industry tries to tell the consumer, smokeless tobacco products aren’t a safe alternative to cigarettes. They can cause receding gums, bone loss around the roots of teeth, tooth loss and deadly diseases such as mouth and pancreatic cancers.
Bright packaging, candy flavors and the illusion of a safer product make these products more appealing to teens. With these new products in stores, it’s more important than ever to prevent tobacco sales to minors.
Tobacco retailers and their employees help to limit youth access by checking IDs for all tobacco purchases, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Wisconsin State Statute 134.66 prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than 18 and also requires training for staff members who sell tobacco products. Both business owners and any employee who sells to minors could be subject to fines. In Wood County, law enforcement cites the employee who sells to the minor. Yet, both owners and their employees must understand the law and check for identification when tobacco purchases are made. Carding only takes a few moments and can save money, and more importantly, saves lives in the long run.
Free tobacco sales training and certification is available for retailers and their employees at www.smokecheck.org.
It’s simple. By limiting a minor’s access to tobacco, a person is doing the right thing and also helping in the battle against the tobacco industry.
Together, we can defeat big tobacco and win healthy, happy, productive futures for our young people.
DaNita Carlson is the tobacco prevention specialist for the Wood County Health Department.