WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- There has been local confusion at area retailers in central Wisconsin after the passage of the federal Tobacco 21 law just before the end of the year, raising the national age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Jenna Flynn from the Central Wisconsin Tobacco Free Coalition says they’ve had retailers reach out with questions, regarding whether the law is effective in Wisconsin and how long they have before it is enforced. Flynn is currently preparing a letter of clarification to send to retailers across the area to help mitigate confusion, directing stores that the law was indeed immediately applicable and that the federal law must be followed across the state.
"The bottom line is, that it is effective immediately," Flynn noted.
Some retailers, like Kwik Trip which operates 700 stores in three Midwestern states including Wisconsin, immediately implemented the new law.
“We anticipated this coming down the pike, and we certainly are supportive of that kind of legislation," Kwik Trip Public Relations director John McHugh said. “Anything to make sure that tobacco products are not in the hands of minors is certainly a huge issue, and obviously for the sake of safety and the health of our consumers, we’re in favor of that.”
In Wisconsin, the legal age is still set at 18, and attorney general Josh Kaul has not responded to repeated requests for comment from NewsChannel 7 regarding whether he will be issuing guidance on how the ruling conflicts with state law. In Nebraska, attorney general Doug Peterson released a memo directing law enforcement to follow the state guidelines with a minimum age of 19, rather than the federally-issued law.
The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the enforcement of the new law, Flynn noted. Across the country and specifically in Wisconsin, FDA inspectors are currently monitoring sales. The FDA did not respond to a question regarding how many inspectors were operating in Wisconsin and whether they were now enforcing the new law, but they did send publically available information about the new law.
Ultimately, the law is designed to decrease smoking in teenagers, as data from the National Survey on Drug use and Health shows that 95% of adult smokers start before 21 years old.
“If we can help prevent youth use at a young age, hopefully that’s beneficial for everybody,” Flynn said. “If a young person is using e-cigarettes, their risk of dual use of cigarettes actually goes up later on in life. The risk of other substances goes up later in life.”