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Protecting Milwaukee Youth from Predatory Tobacco Marketing

Aug. 8, 2017
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As we all know, Milwaukee is made up of distinct neighborhoods with different access to resources and amenities, but what’s often overlooked is that Milwaukee neighborhoods have very different access and exposure to tobacco products and advertising. Not surprisingly, residents of North Side neighborhoods—predominantly comprising African Americans with lower incomes—have far more opportunities to buy tobacco products than residents of more affluent, white neighborhoods, such as the Upper East Side and the suburbs.


The disparities may not be obvious, since most people shop close to home and aren’t aware of what’s for sale in stores across town. But the data prove it. According to Counter Tools, in the 53206 North Side neighborhood, there are 65 tobacco retailers for 28,840 people (2.3 per 1,000 people), compared to just 27 tobacco retailers for 36,248 people in the predominantly white and affluent 53211 Upper East Side neighborhood (0.7 per 1,000 people).


This is especially troubling for the young people who live on the North Side, as they’ve easy access to tobacco products during a time in their lives when it’s easy to get hooked. Plus, youth on the North Side of Milwaukee are also heavily targeted with menthol advertising and fruit-flavored tobacco products, which appeal to young people. With nearly 1 in 4 Milwaukee retailers selling tobacco to underage youth during Wisconsin Wins compliance checks, it is actually easier for many Milwaukee youth to get fruit-flavored cigars than actual fruit.

Last summer, local tobacco prevention advocates, such as the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance, Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network, Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Poverty Network, Wisconsin Hispanic Latino Tobacco Prevention Network and Tobacco-Free Suburban Milwaukee and Ozaukee County, conducted retail scans to learn more about tobacco sales and advertising in different parts of the city. According to the Milwaukee Collaborative Project Data Report, they found the following: 

  • The North Side (zip codes 53209, 53206 and 53205) has three times as many tobacco retailers within 500 feet of schools as compared to the Upper East Side and suburban areas (zip codes 53217, 53211, 53220 and 53110).
  • 35% of retailers on the North Side displayed e-cigarettes near candy as compared to 9% on the Upper East Side and suburban areas.
  • 35% of retailers on the North Side sold flavored little cigars (cigarillos) near candy as compared to 7% on the Upper East Side and suburban areas.
  • 81% of retailers on the North Side sold cigarillos for less than $1 as compared to 52% on the Upper East Side and suburban areas.
  • The North Side had twice as much outdoor menthol advertising at stores as did the Upper East Side and suburban areas. (Menthol cigarettes are more addictive and harder to quit than regular cigarettes.)

Taken together, the easy access to tobacco products in predominantly African American neighborhoods translates into higher rates of tobacco-related diseases and higher smoking rates, with a smoking rate that’s nearly double the state average. This data is an alarm alerting stakeholders to take action to protect the youth of Milwaukee, particularly those on the city’s North Side. 

Some of the actions we could take include encouraging tobacco retailers to work with their neighborhood association (as Washington Park Partners did) to sign a “Good Business Agreement” to show their commitment to prevent youth sales, eliminate single cigarette sales and limit tobacco advertising, ensuring that tobacco retailers do an online training at witobaccocheck.org so that all employees are trained to prevent underage sales. We can also support an effort to have Milwaukee join cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago and San Francisco that have passed local laws restricting the sale of menthol cigarettes, cigarillos and e-juice, as well as limiting tobacco sales near schools.

Brittany Goodridge is a graduate student at the UW-Milwaukee Zilber School of Public Health and conducted tobacco retail scans for the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance. 

Issue of the Week presents the Shepherd Express opinion on an important issue in the news. It is usually written by the Shepherd’s editor, but at times we invite someone outside of the paper who is either working in the field or has some other level of expertise.


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