Wisconsin Fails to Curb Tobacco Use in the State

Jan 30, 2018

Nearly 8,000 people die in Wisconsin from tobacco related illnesses every year compared to the near 500 deaths that occur from car crashes. A report by the American Lung Association reveals Wisconsin hasn’t done enough to adequately prevent or reduce tobacco usage in the state.

The newly released State of Tobacco Control report says Wisconsin failed in three out of five categories - failure to fund state tobacco prevention, provide services to help citizens quit using tobacco, and failure to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco.

Experts say there's no one way to decrease tobacco usage, but efforts are underway.

Twenty-one-degree weather coupled with falling snow flurries didn’t keep Shae Lappen inside during his lunch break.

I found him outside the Chase Tower smoking a cigarette while on his phone. Lappen’s been smoking since he was about 18 – he’s 30 now.

“You know you get hooked when you're young. I’ve tried to quit several times. It’s hard,” he says.

After hearing of Wisconsin’s failing grades related to reducing and preventing tobacco usage in the state, Lappen could only say that it’s a shame and wonders if tobacco use is in any way related to Wisconsin’s drinking culture.

But he thinks showing real images of long-term tobacco use, especially to young people, should be used to really try to deter them from using tobacco products.

“I think it’d be better if we took, like, the approach that a lot of other countries have taken, especially in Europe, where they put awful pictures on there because it does make you think twice about smoking when you see, you know, a blackened lung on a pack of cigarettes," Lappen says.

One group that has been working to reduce tobacco consumption is the American Lung Association. It’s pushing for a bill that would make access to tobacco products more difficult for school aged children.

"You know you get hooked when you're young."

About eight percent of high school students smoke, according to tobaccofreekids.org.

The bill would require all tobacco products to be placed either behind the counter or to be kept in a locked cabinet.

Dona Wininsky is the director of tobacco control and public policy for ALA in Wisconsin.

“Right now a lot of those products are just sitting out on the floor. They look like candy, they smell like candy, they’re packaged like candy and they come in candy and fruit flavors. They’re sitting out on racks close to other candy and snack products,” she says.

Those candy like products Wininsky is referring to are cigarillos that come in a variety of flavors and whose packaging comes in a variety of colors. 

Wininsky says this is an effort to treat all tobacco products equally.

She says two out of the three categories Wisconsin failed in - funding tobacco prevention and providing service to help people quit – are based on how much money the state spends to address those problems. 

And, Wininsky says, the statewide tobacco control program is poorly underfunded. “We need to be spending more money to help smokers quit, to providing more resources for them and as long as that funding for those two programs remains as low as it is, those grades will be an F."

Wininsky also says big tobacco companies do heavy marketing to lower income communities and communities of color. Those are the groups that tend to use tobacco products the most.

She says the tobacco companies are always looking to appeal to the next generation of smokers as if certain tobacco products aren’t as dangerous as regular cigarettes.

The truth is they’re all extremely dangerous for anyone who uses them.