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'You're not of age, I can't sell to you': Wauwatosa police crack down on underage tobacco use

Posted at 8:03 PM, Jan 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-28 15:07:40-05

WAUWATOSA — The Wauwatosa Health Department says for the last three years, no retailers have sold tobacco to minors.

In a collaborative effort with the Wauwatosa Police Department, they've used local student volunteers under the age of 18 to try and purchase tobacco products from local retailers.

Wauwatosa West sophomore Emma Cepulis worked with police over the past year to see if local businesses would sell tobacco. Last Sunday, she went into Tosa Wine and Spirits to do just that.

"She was like, 'you're not of age, I can't sell to you,'" said Cepulis.

Police say they do about 30 business checks per year.

"It's been going really well," Officer Farris Griffin with the Wauwatosa Police Department said. "I commend the retailers in Wauwatosa. As soon as the volunteer comes in and asks for a product, they'll ask, 'how old are you?' We're not trying to trick anybody or play games."

The streak could be even longer. Officials say one business did sell tobacco to a minor three years ago, but it was the only sale they've had in the last nine years. They hope it is an extra hurdle in teens getting their hands on tobacco so they may not get hooked.

"It's really important because it helps restrict youth access to tobacco," Laura Conklin, Health Officer & Director of the Wauwatosa Health Dept. said. "We know that's one way we can prevent youth from becoming addicted to tobacco later in life."

Despite no business selling to a minor, kids vaping in Wauwatosa is increasing. The Health Department says in 2019, 46% of Wauwatosa high school students tried vaping. That's up from 20% in 2017.

Conklin says despite their efforts, kids will always be able to find a way to purchase the products.

"If they're not getting them from Wauwatosa retailers, they may be getting them from retailers elsewhere," Conklin said. "They may be getting them online. This is a piece of that larger puzzle. The hope is we start to make a dent and difference in kids being able to go and purchase them elsewhere."

However, it's getting easier for retailers to spot kids who could be trying to buy underage. In December, President Donald Trump signed a bill into law increasing the legal age to buy tobacco to 21.

So, retailers know to check for IDs the same way they do for alcohol now.

"You don't have to think about it," Brad Hatfield, a manager at Tosa Wine & Spirits said. "It's 21 across the board. You don't want kids smoking. I think it's important for business integrity to not be known as the store that will sell to underage kids. I don't want that to be the reputation we have."

The Wauwatosa Health Department says a powerful protective factor for preventing substance use is a strong bond with a parent or caregiver. They encourage parents to be more involved in what's going on in their kids' lives.

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