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Tobacco coalition battling teenage smoking

Battling teenage cigarette smoking fits the description of "never-ending job."

There are times, though, when progress is being made.

In November and December, the Pierce/St. Croix Tobacco Free Coalition made two sweeps through the county. In each sweep they stopped at every county business licensed to sell cigarettes, sending a minor into the business to see if they would be sold cigarettes. In the first sweep, 25 county businesses would have sold cigarettes to underage customers. That's nearly 20 percent of the businesses.

Each of those visits was followed by an adult travelling with the group talking to the business management. They were congratulated if they handled the situation properly. If they didn't, they were informed of the error and were giving information on the importance of not selling tobacco to minors.

It is also against state law to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. Retailers are being asked by the coalition to be sure to check identification before selling tobacco products.

The second sweep was made several weeks later. This time only three of the county businesses sold cigarettes to minors.

These sweeps are being done as part of a program titled "WI Wins." The "Wisconsin Wins" program was started in June by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services.

This program was begun because studies show that 33.7 percent of youth use tobacco. Since the program was begun, that percentage is down to 27 percent.

Geralyn Karl, Pierce and St. Croix County Tobacco Prevention and Control Specialist, said most businesses have worked hard to prevent any tobacco sales to minors. She said most of the county schools have also been extremely active, working with the coalition to create anti-tobacco groups in the schools and sponsor numerous activities in all levels of the schools.

Karl said River Falls sets an example for what is being done to battle teen smoking. If a student is convicted of underage smoking, they put the student in a tobacco cessation class to help them kick the habit.

Because of the work of the coalition students using tobacco in the state has dropped from 33 to 27 percent.

Coalition information reports that 68 St. Croix county residents die annually due to smoking-related illnesses. In 2000, more than 7,300 people statewide died due to smoking-related illnesses.

Want another staggering figure related to smoking? In Wisconsin last year, $270 million in Medicare went directly to treating patients with tobacco-related health problems.

That's why Karl has strong reminders for the businesses that have licenses to sell cigarettes.

"Their employees need to understand the impact of selling to a minor in the bigger picture," Karl said. "These retailers can make a difference. Every time they aren't selling to a minor, they are perhaps saving a life."

Karl said the information shows tobacco to be a "gateway drug." She said use of alcohol and meth is often tied to minors who have first experimented with cigarettes.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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