Wisconsin's statewide commercial tobacco prevention coalition

Partnership for a Tobacco Free Wisconsin


Yesterday the State Senate adjourned their session without voting on the Tobacco 21 and Vape Shop Licensing bills. This means problems associated with these issues will persist throughout Wisconsin for another year, at least.

Restricting sales to under 21 in state statute and exploring, educating, and coalition building around licensing vape shops were two of our movement's objectives for this legislative session. Partnership for a Tobacco Free Wisconsin members worked tirelessly to advocate for best practice Tobacco 21 policy. Thank you to Tobacco Prevention Alliances across Wisconsin that provided high-quality education. Thank you to Advocacy Partners that lobbied to align state age requirements with federal law and to license vape shops. Thank you to our champions in the Wisconsin Legislature, too!

These two bills passed committees in both houses, and they passed the State Assembly. While it's tough to fall short of policy change at the eleventh hour, the tobacco prevention and control movement is stronger because we worked in partnership to try to solve these youth access problems. 

Tobacco 21 Information


In December 2019 the federal government passed a law to raise the age to buy tobacco products to 21. Consistency between state and federal law would make it clearer for retailers trying to comply with age requirements.

The FDA is responsible for enforcement of federal law. Without a change in state statute, state and local law enforcement will continue to be unauthorized to enforce sales to 18, 19, and 20 year-olds. Therefore, WI Wins’ compliance checks will continue to monitor tobacco sales to those under 18, per Wisconsin law. Retailers and clerks may continue to be confused, as the FDA and Synar checks have begun to hire young adults for federal sales checks. Note that recent Synar data shows an increase in underage sales from 5.5% in 2019 to 14.1% in 2021. States must comply with the Synar Amendment and keep Synar rates below 20% to receive their full Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment block grant from the federal government.

Unlike the WI Wins' compliance checks, the program's retailer materials and community education will continue to raise awareness of the new federal law’s legal age to sell tobacco products of 21. Tobacco 21 is the law of the land.

Vape Shop Licensing

In Wisconsin, licensed tobacco retailers must provide employees with standard sales training, purchase tobacco from permitted distributors, and obey tax laws. However, vape shops don't have to follow all these rules. Since state statute doesn't classify them as tobacco retailers, they will continue to operate without a license.

Relationship with Preemption

Wisconsin statute expressly preempts local governments from changing policies related to licensing and taxing tobacco products. A court case broadly interpreted this preemption to include all youth access policies, including age requirements. Preemption means local law cannot be passed that's stronger than state law, which remains 18. Therefore, the state government needed to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco, so local law enforcement and prevention specialists could best enforce Tobacco 21 across Wisconsin.

What's Next?

The next opportunity to introduce state bills will be during the legislative session that starts in 2023.

Learn more about youth tobacco access and Wisconsin's retail environment: https://www.tobaccofreewisconsin.org/retail-assessment.html.

Learn to Educate Decision makers about these problems by attending Our Upcoming Webinar!


The Partnership for a Tobacco Free Wisconsin's Policy Committee will host a virtual webinar to review the Wisconsin Retail Assessment Project's Mapping Tool.

Wednesday, April 6th, 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.

Register now:  https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcqdeiqqDkvHddO2n8QMnDpN4itN7iTxKIy

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