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Wisconsin receives failing grades in three categories of new State of Tobacco Control report

MADISON, Wis. (WISC) -- Tobacco is still the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths in Wisconsin. Eight thousand people die from using it each year and a new report from the American Lung Association shows the state is failing to prevent and reduce tobacco use.

Wisconsin received failing grades in three out of five categories. According to the report, Wisconsin failed to fund state tobacco prevention programs, failed to provide services to help Wisconsinites quit using tobacco and failed to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21.

The ALA says Wisconsin should do more to save lives by implementing tobacco regulations. They say the state can do that by passing AB 225, a bill requiring all tobacco products be kept behind the counter or in a locked cabinet.

They argue the bill would place one more barrier between minors and their access to products like candy and fruit-flavored little cigars.

The ALA says even the most well-trained retailer can mistake the "look-alike, smell-alike" flavored tobacco products for treats. But, by requiring kids to ask for them by name, sellers will better know when to ask for an ID.

"We're talking about little cigars that look exactly like cigarettes except they're wrapped in brown paper," explained Dona Wininsky, Director of the Tobacco Control and Public Policy for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin. "We're talking about cigarillos. We're talking about products that are flavored in chocolate and strawberry and they're packaged in bright, kid-friendly colors. They're enticing kids."

Neighboring states, including Minnesota and Illinois, have much tougher tobacco policies.

"There's no one magic bullet in terms of reducing smoking," said Wininsky. "It's a whole combination of things. Putting tobacco products behind counters is not the end of the line for us. It's not the be all, end all. What it is, is one more roadblock in preventing kids from starting to use tobacco products."

The American Lung Association says close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. Nearly 7 out of 10 smokers want to quit but tobacco use is a serious addiction that is tough to kick.

AB 225 has already passed the Senate. It needs to be voted on by the committee before it is called for a vote in the Assembly.

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