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Wisconsin could lose federal funds used to fight substance abuse because too many minors have been able to illegally buy cigarettes, according to a Department of Health and Family Services survey.
"If we' re going to reduce teen smoking, a big responsibility falls on retailers," said Elizabeth August of the Winnebago County Tobacco Free Coalition. "The more access teens have to cigarettes, the more teens are going to smoke."
Officials sent teenagers into stores across the state throughout the summer to find out how often minors were able to illegally purchase tobacco products. Clerks sold cigarettes to minors in one-third of store visits, according to Department of Health and Family Services results. Minors were able to buy cigarettes in one-quarter of visits last year.
Because national standards allow states to have no more than a 22 percent failure rate in selling tobacco to minors, Wisconsin could lose some of the $10 million it gets in federal substance abuse aid, the Associated Press reported.
State health officials have talked with the federal government about minimizing the penalty. Teens illegally buy more than 5 million packs of cigarettes per year, the Wisconsin Tobacco Control Board reported. Wisconsin retailers sold to teens this year at a 9 percent higher rate than in 2000.
As part of the National "We Card" program, store employees are trained to ask for identification from anyone appearing to be less than 27 years old, but others card everyone. Employees at Oshkosh' s Lang Oil have a firm instruction: No ID, no cigarettes.
"I' d rather not make a sale if they don' t have an ID," said owner Jim Lang. "Some people get put off by it, but so be it. Some 20-year-olds look like they' re 30. You never can tell."
Clerks who sell to minors can be fined $500 on their first offense and can lose their tobacco sales license on subsequent offenses.