By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
The We Card program is now celebrating its 18th year of providing training and educational materials to retailers on state and federal tobacco restrictions. The ubiquitous program is widely recognized by its yellow and red signage that warns: “Under 18, No Tobacco: We Card.”
What’s more, this September marked the first “We Card Awareness Month.”
“We decided to hold our awareness month because September begins the ordering season for retailers to order and receive their We Card in-store materials for the coming year, and we also wanted to heighten their awareness that we have these materials in hand for them to order,” said Doug Anderson, president of the We Card program. “More importantly we wanted to raise their awareness of FDA regulations and certainly the number of states who consider e-cigarettes an age-restricted product starting this year is increasing. We also want to motivate retailers to step up their efforts to train and retrain employees on tobacco restrictions and to mystery shop their stores.”
We Card aims to educate retailers about e-cigarette age restrictions in specific states the same way it educates about tobacco rules.
“We educate retailers in three ways. We take all the different state laws and summarize them and categorize them in eight different areas including minimal age, acceptable products, forms of ID, etc.,” Anderson said. “Then we deliver that information through online training, with a guide for employees inside a We Card kit, and we also have an online resource where retailers can get up-to-date regulations for the states they are operating in.”
Along with its 18th anniversary year, We Card is calling on retailers to step up and increase their responsible retailing efforts to prevent tobacco sales to minors. “We’re speaking to retailers, and when we say greater restriction of tobacco sales to minors, we’re also calling them to focus on e-cigarettes if they are age-restricted in their states,” Anderson said.
Since the We Card’s program inception in 1995, it has evolved from a classroom-based initiative into an easily accessible online training resource.
“In the beginning years we launched the program as largely an in-store education embodied by a We Card kit delivered to retailers, but it quickly evolved to classroom training seminars across the country,” Anderson said. “Managers would be sent to the session and would then go back to their store to train employees.”
Online training fits better for most c-store chains and was identified as the preferred method of training. “This is a strategy that worked well for us because we’ve also had to become more technologically-sophisticated so that retailers can access our information and get it rapidly,” Anderson said.
In the past 15 years, successful attempts by minors to purchase tobacco products decreased from 40% to 9.1%, according the 2012 Synar Report. Non-compliance with federal FDA regulations is even lower at about 6%, according to We Card’s analysis of publicly available FDA data.
Since 2010, when the FDA began enforcement at retail, nearly 200,000 compliance checks have been conducted at a rate of 6,000-10,000 inspections per month–in addition to the state inspections. Recently, We Card adjusted its online training to meet FDA’s guidelines for Tobacco Retailer Training Programs.
“West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has proclaimed September as ‘We Card Awareness Month’ and we are certainly proud of that and hope other states will follow his lead,” Anderson said. “Every year, retailers are ordering new materials, and I think that’s a testament to them wanting to be prepared for the upcoming year. It’s responsible business planning at its best.”