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Fewer state teens illegally buying smokes

The number of Wisconsin teenagers purchasing tobacco dropped significantly in 2007, marking the sixth straight year of decline and confirming that strategies aimed at reducing the illegal sale of tobacco to minors are paying off.

The number of Wisconsin teenagers purchasing tobacco dropped significantly in 2007, marking the sixth straight year of decline and confirming that strategies aimed at reducing the illegal sale of tobacco to minors are paying off.

"The good news is that our efforts in Wisconsin are successful," said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Family Services. "This is the lowest rate of selling to minors we've ever achieved, which is crucial to preventing kids from taking up the habit."

Each summer, the agency sends teenage volunteers throughout the state into stores to see if clerks will either refuse to sell or block the teens from buying tobacco from vending machines. Those who do so are immediately given a reward, such as a gift certificate, by an adult who accompanies the teen.

Clerks who sell to minors are reminded of the state law and are told to take more training.

The volunteers were able to buy tobacco from merchants 4.5 percent of the time last summer, a dramatic decrease from 33.7 percent in 2001. At that time, the state faced losing $10 million in federal funds because of its high noncompliance rate.

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According to Wisconsin Wins, a state-sponsored program that tracks the illegal sales of tobacco to minors and youth tobacco use, Milwaukee youths were able to buy tobacco illegally 135 times out of 1,667 attempts, or 8.1 percent of the time in 2007.

And in Waukesha County, the youths were successful 7.3 percent of the time, with 33 illegal sales in 454 attempts.

Three counties -- Ashland, Clark and Dodge -- had the worst compliance rates in the state. Each county allowed youths to buy tobacco more than 20 percent of the time.

States that don't reduce their failure rates to 20 percent face losing 40 percent of their federal substance abuse prevention and treatment block grants.

In Wisconsin, smoking rates have dropped among high-schoolers, with 19.9 percent reporting that they smoked in 2006, compared with 33 percent in 2000. Of those who smoked in 2006, only 15 percent purchased the products themselves in a store.

-- Copyright © 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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