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COMMENTARY: The Sale of Singles Cigarettes is a Problem You Need to Know About

MILWAUKEE COURIER — The sale of single cigarettes is illegal and a practice that is detrimental to the health of residents in Central City Milwaukee communities. That’s a message the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network’s (WAATPN) Single Cigarette Subcommittee and tobacco retailers have been working to spread in Milwaukee.

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By Debra Nevels, Senior Manager of Health Systems at American Cancer Society and Baker Al-Qudsi, Vice President of Marketing at Hayat Pharmacy

There is not enough awareness in our community on the issue of the sale of single cigarettes, commonly referred to as “singles” or “loosies.” The need for increased awareness on the issue became more evident after the incident that occurred on April 29, at ABC Liquor Depot. Detailed in a Fox 6 news segment, the incident began after a clerk refused to sell a single-cigarette.

The sale of single cigarettes is illegal and a practice that is detrimental to the health of residents in Central City Milwaukee communities. That’s a message the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network’s (WAATPN) Single Cigarette Subcommittee and tobacco retailers have been working to spread in Milwaukee. The WAATPN began researching the issue in 2016. By surveying more than 600 residents, they found that a quarter of those polled did not know it was illegal to sell single cigarettes, while 75% thought it was a problem in Milwaukee. Nearly half of respondents believed it was the responsibility of the community, law enforcement, retailers and elected officials to help prevent the sale of single cigarettes.

This issue was also highlighted recently in an op-ed penned by Senator Lena Taylor titled, ”Loosies are killing us,” in which she discussed the informal economy around the sale of single cigarettes that were created as the prices of cigarette packs steadily rose.

Taylor and the WAATPN and others consider the sale of “loosies” problematic for several reasons. It is a predatory practice that makes cigarettes more accessible to individuals trying to quit and to low income residents, who are actually paying a premium by purchasing a single for 50 cents or $1. The sale of singles also increases youth access to cigarettes because vendors who do choose to sell singles are more likely to shirk laws aimed at preventing youth tobacco use and because non-vendors sometimes sell loosies outside of stores. It also results in the loss of state and federal tax revenue that could be allocated to support tobacco prevention and education in Wisconsin.

Another problem, as evidenced by the incident at ABC Liquor, is that retailers are sometimes pressured by customers to sell loosies. This could be occurring because some individuals are accustomed to being able to buy them from other retailers. The WAATPN became familiar with this problem as a result of outreach efforts to retailers in Milwaukee. The result is a campaign to create “No Loosies,” signage that will be displayed in corner stores and gas stations throughout Milwaukee this summer. The signs will help make customers aware that the sale of single cigarettes is illegal, and that retailers who display the sign won’t do it. The signs should also help prevent incidents such as the one that occurred at ABC Liquor.

Aside from the immediate safety and law enforcement concerns, the greater risk related to the sale of single cigarettes are the health risks related to all tobacco use, especially mentholated tobacco, which is easier to start and harder to quit. For African-Americans, the top three causes of death are all tobacco related. In Wisconsin, 28% of African- Americans smoke, though in some Milwaukee ZIP code areas the rates are nearly 40%. The adult smoking rate in Wisconsin is 16%. Part of the reason for that disparity is the fact that single cigarettes are widely available in communities of color.

One of the many issues that need to be addressed to lower this disparity is the need for increased awareness on the issue of single cigarettes.

If you’d like to learn more about the Single Cigarette campaign, where to report those who sell single cigarettes or are looking to quit smoking or using tobacco please reach out to us on social media at https://www.facebook.com/waatpn/.

This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Courier

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