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Wisconsin Synar Report shows increase underage tobacco sales


The Wisconsin Synar report keeps track of the percentage of Wisconsin retailers who sell tobacco products to underage buyers.

In 2019, that rate was 5.5%.

In 2021, it jumped to 14.1%.

The report wasn’t done in 2020 due to COVID.

One key difference between the two years is the federal law change.

In December of 2019, the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products increased from 18 to 21.

“About 95% of adult smokers, they began smoking before turning the age of 21. And 80% started before the age of 18. Preventing tobacco use before the age of 21 is just a really crucial step to avoid lifelong addiction,” said Shelby Moore, community health specialist with the Oneida County Health Department.

Data hasn’t been released yet to know if the increase was just in the 18- to 20-year-olds that are now underage or if the increase in sales was also seen in those under 18.

Moore says there’s also another concerning trend that may or may not be related to the increase shown in the Synar Report.

More streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix have shows with frequent smoking.

Series like the ‘Umbrella Academy’ and ‘The Queens Gambit’ heavily featured smoking.

An organization called the Truth Initiative analyzed top binge-watched shows among 15–24-year-olds.

It found that about two-thirds included commercial tobacco depictions.

“Research has shown, time and time again, the more tobacco imagery young people see on screen, the more likely they are to initiate that use of that tobacco product,” said Moore.

For the last two years, the National Association of Attorneys General, including Wisconsin’s Josh Kaul, sent letters to major U.S. streaming services urging them to decrease instances of commercial tobacco use in their programming.

The Truth Initiative report shows Netflix remains the worst offender four years in a row, despite making a pledge in 2019 to limit tobacco use in shows kids and teens are likely to watch.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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