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WI Looks to Become Latest "Tobacco 21" State

Fewer Wisconsin teens are smoking cigarettes than just five years ago, but the number who vape climbed from 7.9% in 2014 to more than 20% in 2018. (gsu.edu)
Fewer Wisconsin teens are smoking cigarettes than just five years ago, but the number who vape climbed from 7.9% in 2014 to more than 20% in 2018. (gsu.edu)
November 7, 2019

MADISON, Wis. – The latest push to discourage teen smoking has reached Wisconsin as lawmakers consider a bill that would raise the tobacco buying age from 18 to 21.

Nearly 20 states have already adopted similar measures.

The Wisconsin plan to boost the buying age received a committee hearing in the Assembly on Wednesday.

Dr. Carrie Chapman, a member of the American Heart Association of Wisconsin's advocacy committee, testified Wednesday in support of the bill on behalf of the American Heart Association of Wisconsin.

She said the goal of Assembly Bill 422 is to prevent younger generations from developing smoking-related health issues as they get older.

"Probably the most powerful statistic is that 95% of adults who smoke start before the age of 21," she pointed out.

The Wisconsin measure would cover all types of tobacco products and vaping devices.

The state Department of Health Services says the number of teens who smoke cigarettes has dropped in the last five years and is now 4.7%. But the number who use e-cigarettes has risen from about 8% to 20% in that same time period.

In addition to the 18 states that have adjusted their purchase age upward, at least 500 cities across the country have taken similar action.

Chapman said the push to raise the tobacco-buying age is seeing a new sense of urgency amid public health concerns over the effects of vaping, especially for young adults.

She said it's crucial that Wisconsin lawmakers address this latest trend.

"It's scary as a parent, as a physician,” she stated. “This is our push for our policymakers to really take a stance in Wisconsin."

However, sponsors of the Assembly bill and its Senate counterpart acknowledge that statewide bans can be hard to implement. And opponents of raising the age say more restrictive laws will create an underground market, bypassing the retailers who can at least monitor underage purchases.

Disclosure: American Heart Association of Wisconsin contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Smoking Prevention. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen/Scott Herron, Public News Service - WI