According to the Federal Trade Commission, the tobacco industry spent over $7 billion in the retail environment in 2011 on cigarettes alone; that’s about $1 million an hour! By promoting and advertising tobacco products prominently in convenience stores, gas stations and supermarkets, tobacco companies ensure that their products are visible to the public on a daily basis. “Big Tobacco” has created an environment designed to entice youth to become regular tobacco users, through price discounts and point-of-sale advertising, while discouraging attempts to quit.
“The ability to attract new smokers and develop them into a young adult franchise is key to brand development,” 1999 Phillip Morris Report, “5 Year Trends 1988-1992.”
As part of the Anti-Tobacco Grant awarded to HCPH through ODH and the CDC, 46 retailers in the county were randomly selected to audit. These store audits were conducted throughout the month of June and consisted of observing retail stores for outside advertising, age restriction signs, product ads, price discounts, product placement, and product flavors, among other marketing strategies. Below are some of HPCH’s findings.
• 63% of stores had price promotions on cigarettes
• 63% of stores had price promotions on menthol cigarettes
• 85% of stores had price promotions on cigarillos or littler cigars
• Cheapest pack of cigarettes found was $3.00
• 61% of stores had exterior cigarette advertisements
• 31% of stores display tobacco ads at a child’s eye level (3 feet from the floor)
• 26% of stores display tobacco within 12 inches of toys, candy, gum, slushy/soda machines, or ice cream Flavored Products
• 95% of stores sold flavored little cigars or cigarillos
Where do we go from here?
As the tobacco industry continues to keep their products cheap, visible and marketed to appeal to youth, what can Huron County do? HCPH has completed several anti-tobacco counter-marketing activities including social media campaigns, a youth lead billboard contest, as well as recent educational presentations and promotion at this year’s Huron County Fair. One of our activities asked fair-goers to speak with their local public servants about tobacco issues. 34 people participated in our activity, gathering over 100 signatures from local public servants.
HCPH is bringing awareness to this issue in hopes of spurring policy changes that would help protect Huron County’s youth, decrease the number of new tobacco users and promote health in the community. Some policy change possibilities include:
• Restricting retailers with 500’ or 1000’ feet of schools
• Restricting the sale of fruit or candy-flavored tobacco products
• Setting minimum floor price and restricting the use of coupons
• Raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21 years old.
A survey conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that 90% of smokers start by the age of 20. Decreasing youth’s exposure to tobacco products could give them an advantage that previous generations didn’t have. Considering current smoking rates, youth that prolong tobacco use until after the age of 21 only have a 2% chance of ever becoming a smoker.
HCPH encourages Huron County residents to talk with public servants and other local decision makers about this issue. Together we can work to eliminate smoking as the leading preventable cause of death.
For more information visit www.HuronCoHealth.com.